Exocartographer: A Bayesian Framework for Mapping Exoplanets in Reflected Light

Ben Farr, Will M. Farr, Nicolas B. Cowan, Hal M. Haggard, Tyler Robinson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Future space telescopes will directly image extrasolar planets at visible wavelengths. Time-resolved reflected light from an exoplanet encodes information about atmospheric and surface inhomogeneities. Previous research has shown that the light curve of an exoplanet can be inverted to obtain a low-resolution map of the planet, as well as constraints on its spin orientation. Estimating the uncertainty on 2D albedo maps has so far remained elusive. Here, we present exocartographer, a flexible open-source Bayesian framework for solving the exocartography inverse problem. The map is parameterized with equal-area Hierarchical, Equal Area, and isoLatitude Pixelation (HEALPix) pixels. For a fiducial map resolution of 192 pixels, a four-parameter Gaussian process describing the spatial scale of albedo variations, and two unknown planetary spin parameters, exocartographer explores a 198-dimensional parameter space. To test the code, we produce a light curve for a cloudless Earth in a face-on orbit with a 90° obliquity. We produce synthetic white-light observations of the planet: five epochs of observations throughout the planet's orbit, each consisting of 24 hourly observations with a photometric uncertainty of 1% (120 data points). We retrieve an albedo map and - for the first time - its uncertainties, along with spin constraints. The albedo map is recognizably of Earth, with a typical 90% uncertainty of 0.14. The retrieved characteristic length scale is ∼9800 km. The obliquity is recovered to be >87.°9 at the 90% credible level. Despite the uncertainty in the retrieved albedo map, we robustly identify a high-albedo region (the Sahara desert) and a large low-albedo region (the Pacific Ocean).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number146
JournalAstronomical Journal
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2018


  • methods: data analysis
  • planetary systems

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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