Limb darkening is fundamental in determining transit light-curve shapes, and is typically modelled by a variety of laws that parametrize the intensity profile of the star that is being transited. Confronted with a transit light curve, some authors fix the parameters of these laws, the so-called limb darkening coefficients (LDCs), while others prefer to let them float in the light-curve fitting procedure. Which of these is the best strategy, however, is still unclear, as well as how and by how much each of these can bias the retrieved transit parameters. In this work we attempt to clarify those points by first recalculating these LDCs, comparing them to measured values from Kepler transit light curves using an algorithm that takes into account uncertainties in both the geometry of the transit and the parameters of the stellar host. We show there are significant departures from predicted model values, suggesting that our understanding of limb darkening still needs to improve. Then, we show through simulations that if one uses the quadratic limb darkening law to parametrize limb darkening, fixing and fitting the LDCs can lead to significant biases - up to ~3 and ~1 per cent in Rp/R*, respectively - which are important for several confirmed and candidate exoplanets. We conclude that, in this case, the best approach is to let the LDCs be free in the fitting procedure. Strategies to avoid biases in data from present and future missions involving high precision measurements of transit parameters are described.
- Stars: atmospheres