Roll your own.
The October 2006 issue of Sky and Telescope is just hitting the stands. It contains a feature article — Virtual Planet Sleuths — on the usage of the console and the Systemic collaborative project. If you’ve read the Sky and Telescope article, and are a first-time visitor to oklo.org, welcome aboard!
The Systemic collaboration is proceeding in three steps. In the first step, which is ongoing, we’ve been gathering all of the radial velocity data that have been published for known planet-bearing stars. These data sets are included in the downloadable systemic console, and the systemic back-end allows participants to upload their own planetary fits to this data. We want to use the data to create a uniform catalog of known planetary systems.
In the second and third phases of the systemic project, we’ll be studying synthetic data sets that have been produced using our own algorithms. “Systemic Jr.” will launch at the beginning of September, and will contain 100 synthetic data sets, four of which will be special challenge systems. The Systemic Challenge, sponsored by Sky and Telescope will be explained in more detail, and will be available at a link on their website. The challenge systems will be released on September 3, 10, 17, and 24, along with a specific set of contest rules. The first person to crack each of these systems will recieve a paperback edition of the Millennium Star Atlas (a $149.95 value).
Later this Fall, when Systemic Jr. wraps up, we’ll launch the full Systemic simulation. A lot more on this will be posted in the weeks ahead. Our overall goal is to obtain an improved statistical characterization of the galactic planetary census.
In the Sky and Telescope article, I made a rather bold claim that by using the console, it’s possible to find an as-yet unannounced planet around more than a dozen different stars. The 55 Cancri data set, for example, is an excellent place for aspiring planet hunters to try their hand.
The feasibility of detecting planets in the published data sets was illustrated dramatically over the past week. On August 14th, Krzysztof Gozdziewski, Andrzej Maciejewski, and Cezary Migaszewski posted a preprint on astro-ph which describes their detection of a fourth — then unknown and then unconfirmed — planet orbiting HD 160691 (also known as mu Ara). They detected the planet using their own software, which has a similar set of capabilities to the systemic console, and they used the dataset provided by the recent Butler et al. 2006 catalog paper. They found an orbital period of P~307 days for the planet, a nearly circular orbit, and a mass of 0.5 Jupiter Masses.
Today, on astro-ph, the Geneva Radial Velocity Search team published a paper with an updated set of radial velocities of HD 160691 which were obtained with the HARPS instrument at La Silla. In the abstract of their paper, they write: “We present the discovery of mu Ara d, a new planet on an almost circular 310-days period and with a mass of 0.52 Jupiter Masses”.
So there you go, folks! The planets are in the data sets. You just need to download the console, fire it up, get a good fit, and submit it to the Systemic back-end.
[Note: It’s not clear what (if any) “credit” Gozdziewski et al. will get for their discovery. I don’t want to proffer an opinion on who should get credit in a case like this, mainly because I really don’t care. The Systemic backend includes a public-record chronological list of submitted fits for each radial velocity data set. If you turn up a planetary configuration that later gets confirmed by one of the radial velocity teams, you’ll get the personal satisfaction of knowing you knew about the planet first. What you almost certainly won’t get, however, is official credit for the discovery, or the right to name the planet, etc., etc.
For the synthetic planets in phases 2 and 3 of the Systemic collaboration, however, the discoverers will receive official credit, and they will have the right to name the planets if they choose to do so.]