Journal Article

Parameter degeneracies and (un)predictability of gravitational microlensing events

M. Dominik

in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

Published on behalf of The Royal Astronomical Society

Volume 393, issue 3, pages 816-821
Published in print March 2009 | ISSN: 0035-8711
Published online February 2009 | e-ISSN: 1365-2966 | DOI:
Parameter degeneracies and (un)predictability of gravitational microlensing events

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Some of the difficulties in determining the underlying physical properties that are relevant for observed anomalies in microlensing light curves, such as the mass and separation of extrasolar planets orbiting the lens star, or the relative source–lens parallax, are already anchored in factors that limit the amount of information available from ordinary microlensing events and in the way these are being parametrized. Moreover, a real-time detection of deviations from an ordinary light curve while these are still in progress can only be done against a known model of the latter, and such is also required for properly prioritizing ongoing events for monitoring in order to maximize scientific returns. Despite the fact that ordinary microlensing light curves are described by an analytic function that only involves a handful of parameters, modelling these is far less trivial than one might be tempted to think. A well-known degeneracy for small impacts, and another one for the initial rise of an event, makes an interprediction of different phases impossible, while in order to determine a complete set of model parameters, the fundamental characteristics of all these phases need to be properly assessed. While it is found that the wing of the light curve provides valuable information about the time-scale that absorbs the physical properties, the peak flux of the event can be meaningfully predicted only after about a third of the total magnification has been reached. Parametrizations based on observable features not only ease modelling by bringing the covariance matrix close to diagonal form, but also allow good predictions of the measured flux without the need to determine all parameters accurately. Campaigns intending to infer planet populations from observed microlensing events need to invest some fraction of the available time into acquiring data that allow to properly determine the magnification function.

Keywords: gravitational lensing; planetary systems

Journal Article.  3460 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Astronomy and Astrophysics

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