The effect of ISM absorption on stellar activity measurements and its relevance for exoplanet studies

Fossati, L.; Marcelja, S. E.; Staab, D.; Cubillos, P. E.; France, K.; Haswell, C. A.; Ingrassia, S.; Jenkins, J. S.; Koskinen, T.; Lanza, A. F.; Redfield, S.; Youngblood, A. and Pelzmann, G. (2017). The effect of ISM absorption on stellar activity measurements and its relevance for exoplanet studies. Astronomy & Astrophysics, 601, article no. A104.



Past ultraviolet and optical observations of stars hosting close-in Jupiter-mass planets have shown that some of these stars present an anomalously low chromospheric activity, significantly below the basal level. For the hot Jupiter planet host WASP-13, observations have shown that the apparent lack of activity is possibly caused by absorption from the intervening interstellar medium (ISM). Inspired by this result, we study the effect of ISM absorption on activity measurements (S and log R'HK indices) for main-sequence late-type stars. To this end, we employ synthetic stellar photospheric spectra combined with varying amounts of chromospheric emission and ISM absorption. We present the effect of ISM absorption on activity measurements by varying several instrumental (spectral resolution), stellar (projected rotational velocity, effective temperature, and chromospheric emission flux), and ISM parameters (relative velocity between stellar and ISM Ca II lines, broadening b-parameter, and Ca II column density). We find that for relative velocities between the stellar and ISM lines smaller than 30–40 km s−1 and for ISM Ca II column densities log NCaII ⪆ 12, the ISM absorption has a significant influence on activity measurements. Direct measurements and three dimensional maps of the Galactic ISM absorption indicate that an ISM Ca II column density of log NCaII = 12 is typically reached by a distance of about 100 pc along most sight lines. In particular, for a Sun-like star lying at a distance greater than 100 pc, we expect a depression (bias) in the log R'HK value larger than 0.05–0.1 dex, about the same size as the typical measurement and calibration uncertainties on this parameter. This work shows that the bias introduced by ISM absorption must always be considered when measuring activity for stars lying beyond 100 pc. We also consider the effect of multiple ISM absorption components. We discuss the relevance of this result for exoplanet studies and revise the latest results on stellar activity versus planet surface gravity correlation. We finally describe methods with which it would be possible to account for ISM absorption in activity measurements and provide a code to roughly estimate the magnitude of the bias. Correcting for the ISM absorption bias may allow one to identify the origin of the anomaly in the activity measured for some planet-hosting stars.

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