The published census of extrasolar planets grew by 1.57% today, with the Geneva Extrasolar Planet Search Teams’s announcement in the journal Nature that trois Neptunes orbit the nearby sunlike star HD 69830.
There are a number of reasons why the Swiss team’s paper is interesting. The HD 69830 system seems tailor-made for a detailed dissection with the Systemic Console. This dissection can get the oklo user-base up and running with the new beta version of the Systemic Backend. In addition, the configuration of this system has some fascinating consequences for the theory of planetary formation and evolution. It is definitely worth digging into this story for the next few posts.
First, the nuts and bolts of the announcement. The three planets, named — you guessed it — HD 69830 “b”, “c” and “d”, clock in with Msin(i) estimates of 10.2, 11.8, and 18.1 Earth masses respectively. Assuming that the system is co-planar and is being viewed close to edge-on, this places b and c squarely in the mysterious planetary mass range that falls between the ice giants (e.g. Uranus and Neptune) and the familiar terrestrial planets. Planet d is somewhat more massive, with a net bulk almost exactly equal to that of Neptune. [It's important to remember that the inclination of any given planetary systems is more likely to be viewed edge-on (i=90 deg) than pole-on (i=0 deg) for the same reason that the Earth has more real-estate within a hundred miles of the equator than within a hundred miles of the poles.]
The published orbits of HD 69830′s planets are, however, distinctly unreminiscent of Uranus and Neptune. HD 69830 b orbits in 8.667 days, c orbits in 31.6 days, and d circles the star once every 197 days. All three have modest eccentricities.
For kicks, here’s a .wav format sound file which turns the reflex radial velocity waveform from the star into an audio signal. [Note: you can use the downloadable version of the Systemic Console to produce an audio representation of any planetary system, see this post from last week for the details.] In the sample file for HD 69830, I’ve pitched the innermost planet to a rather piercing 3 octaves above A 440. The period difference betwen the inner and outer planets leads to ~4.5 octaves of pitch difference. Planet d’s contribution can be heard as a bass drone about 2 octaves below middle C.
Indeed, the “chord” produced by these three new planets sounds terrible. Badly out of tune, to be precise. This immediately tells us that ther are no strong mean-motion resonances in the published configuration of planets. The human ear-brain system is good at on-the-fly calculation of whether the mean-motion resonance arguments are in circulation or libration. For example, this .wav file corresponds to a (synthetic) planetary system that is participating in several mean-motion resonances. When compared to HD 69830, it sounds awfully good.
As soon as I saw those periods — 8.667 days, 31 days, 197 days — I raced ahead through the paper draft to see if a photometric check for transits was carried out already by the discovery team… Excellent! There’s no mention anywhere in the paper of an attempt at a photometric search for transits of the planets. This will lend a challenging, high-profile opportunity to transitsearch.org. My guess is that the Geneva team was quite eager to get these three worlds out the door, and did not want to hold up the show with an exhaustive photometric check. There’s a real danger that you’ll wind up getting scooped if you cross all your photometric T’s before publishing your radial velocity-detected planets.
In the next post, we’ll look at what the radial velocities have to say.