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transitsearch dot org

June 4th, 2007

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Gl 436 b was the first planet to be detected in transit after the radial velocity detection of the planet itself was publicly announced. Gillon et al.’s discovery shows that the basic strategy of checking known Doppler wobble stars for transits can pay off dramatically, and indeed it’s recharged my interest in keeping transitsearch.org up and running.

Successful transit predictions depend on having accurate ephemerides, which in turn depend on fits to the most recent radial velocities available. The period error in an old fit builds up to the point where the predicted transit window is longer than the orbital period itself. Indeed, relying on a published fit that’s five, six, or even eight years old, is akin to showing up at the 2007 Grammy Awards in a 2001 Escalade.

We’ve thus started the job of making sure that the transitsearch.org candidate tables are as up to date as possible. I’ve committed to spending a bit of time each day checking and updating the master orbit.data and star.data files that are used as input to the cron job that runs every night to update the prediction tables. In each case, we’ll use the most recent published orbital data for a given planet.

In addition, the eighteen known transiting planets have all had their ephemeris tables updated using the latest literature values for the orbital parameters. I got the most of these data from Frederic Pont’s useful summary table, and took the radial velocity half-amplitudes from exoplanet.eu and exoplanets.org. At the moment, the occultations are all treated as central transits by my code, which means that the predicted transit durations will in general be longer than the actual observed events. This discrepancy will be patched shortly, but in the meantime, the predicted transit midpoint times in the ephemeris tables should be extremely accurate for all 18 planets. (See the candidates faq for more information).

We’ve made the decision to base the main transitsearch.org candidates table only on published orbital fits that have appeared in the refereed literature. In many cases, however, one finds a need to go beyond predictions based on published fits. There are two main circumstances under which this can occur. (1) The systemic console provides the ability to obtain fits to all existing radial velocity data for any given system. For many systems, one thus has the opportunity to obtain orbital parameters for the planet that are more accurate than published values that are based on fewer data sets. (2) You may have used the console to locate a candidate planet that is not yet published. If this planet can be observed in transit, then you’ve got dramatic confirmation of your discovery.

Eugenio has written an extension to the bootstrap window of the most recent version of the console that allows anyone to make transit predictions for any planet produced by the console. In an upcoming post, we’ll look in detail at how this new feature works.

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