e as in Weird
Gl 436 b orbits its parent star in a short 2.64 days, and the discovery of transits indicates that its physical properties are quite similar to Neptune. The theoretical expectation is thus completely clear cut. “That orbit is circular, Son. Tidal dissipation has long since damped out that eccentricity.”
The data, however, stubbornly insist otherwise. When I do a one-planet fit to the radial velocities (incorporating the constraint on the mean anomaly imposed by Gillon et al.’s observation of the transit midpoint) then the distribution of bootstrap fits indicates e~0.13 +/- 0.03:
[Note: Stefano and Eugenio have been cranking away on the downloadable console code base, and the current beta-test version on the backend now contains a slew of new features, including a revved-up Hermite integrator and the ability to incorporate transit timing observations into the orbital fits. The user interface has been completely overhauled in order to maintain usability with the rapidly expanding feature set. We'll be putting up some posts very soon that demo all this bling. In the interim, though, I definitely recommend downloading a copy and taking it for a test-drive.]
The latest console version.
In this post from last week, I looked at the possibility that gl 436 b’s eccentricity is being maintained by as-yet unpublished planets. There’s a hint of a long-term trend in the data that indicates a large and distant companion.
The lowest chi-square fit to th gj437_M07K data set (by user Schneidi) reduces the magnitude of the long-term trend by using a pair of planets on 53 and 399 day orbits.
In Schneidi’s fit, the bulk of the perturbation on planet b is provided by the 53-day plant “c” which also has close to a Neptune mass. In last week’s post, I looked at this model in gory detail. If the 53-day planet exists, and if its orbital plane is aligned for transits, then the transit will occur around June 7th.
For two planets like Gl 436 b and c, which aren’t in mean-motion resonance, and which aren’t on crossing orbits, the long-term evolution of the orbits is well-described by an approximation worked out by Laplace and Lagrange in the 1770s. In the Laplace-Lagrange theory, the gravitational interactions between a set of planets are assumed to be effective over a “secular” timescale that is much longer than the orbital periods of the planets themselves. The planets can thus be treated as flexible elliptical wires of varying mass density (highest near apoastron where the planets spend more time, and lowest near periastron where the least time is spent). The planets are able to trade eccentricity back and forth while keeping their semi-major axes fixed (orbital angular momentum is exchanged, but not orbital energy).
Last week, I was wondering whether the secular interchange of eccentricity could provide a mechanism for b to offload angular momentum as it tidally dissipates its orbital energy. If such a mechanism were effective, then it might explain why b’s orbit is still eccentric.
To look at this, I used a “double averaging” approximation to do a long-term numerical evolution of the 2-planet system in the presence of tidal damping. With this approach, one uses the Laplace-Lagrange theory to advance the system forward over a secular timestep of hundreds to thousands of years. After each secular timestep, one then applies tidal dissipation (modify semi-major axis and eccentricity so as to decrease the energy of planet b while conserving its angular momentum). Then one takes another secular timestep, etc. This approach should provide a reasonable picture of the orbital evolution so long as the secular time scale (thousands of years) is much shorter than the tidal evolution time scale (millions of years or more).
The answer is immediately clear. The presence of a 53-day planet “c” doesn’t stave off tidal circularization. In the graph above, I’ve assumed a Neptune-like tidal Q of 10,000 for b. The high-frequency secular exchange of angular momentum is of no use for maintaining b’s eccentricity. The orbit is circularized on an e-folding timescale of ~10 million years — much shorter than the current age of the star.
Guess I’m just not hip to where b’s scoring its e.