Archive for December, 2007

transit valuations

December 24th, 2007 15 comments

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Discoveries relating to transiting extrasolar planets often make the news. This is in keeping both with the wide public interest in extrasolar planets, as well as the effectiveness of the media-relations arms of the agencies, organizations, and universities that facilitate research on planets. I therefore think that funding support for research into extrasolar planets in general, and transiting planets in particular, is likely to be maintained, even in the face of budget cuts in other areas of astronomy and physics. There’s an article in Saturday’s New York Times which talks about impending layoffs at Fermilab, where the yearly budget has just been cut from $342 million to $320 million. It’s often not easy to evaluate how much a particular scientific result is “worth” in terms of a dollar price tag paid by the public, and Sean Carroll over at Cosmic Variance has a good post on this topic.

For the past two years, the comments sections for my posts have presented a rather staid, low-traffic forum of discussion. That suddenly changed with Thursday’s post. The discussion suddenly heated up, with some of the readers suggesting that the CoRoT press releases are hyped up in relation to the importance of their underlying scientific announcements.

How much, actually, do transit discoveries cost? Overall, of order a billion dollars has been committed to transit detection, with most of this money going to CoRoT and Kepler. If we ignore the two spacecraft and look at the planets found to date, then this sum drops to something like 25 million dollars. (Feel free to weigh in with your own estimate and your pricing logic if you think this is off base.)

The relative value of a transit depends on a number of factors. After some revisions and typos (see comment section for this post) I’m suggesting the following valuation formula for the cost, C, of a transit:

The terms here are slightly subjective, but I think that the overall multiplicative effect comes pretty close to the truth.

The normalization factor of 580 million out front allows the total value of transits discovered to date to sum to 25 million dollars. The exponential term gives weight to early discoveries. It’s a simple fact that were HD 209458 b discovered today, nobody would party like its 1999 — I’ve accounted for this with an e-folding time of 5 years in the valuation.

Bright transits are better. Each magnitude in V means a factor of 2.5x more photons. My initial inclination was to make transit value proportional to stellar flux (and I still think this is a reasonable metric). The effect on the dimmer stars, though was simply overwhelming. Of order 6 million dollars worth of HST time was spent to find the SWEEPS transits, and with transit value proportional to stellar flux, this assigned a value of two dollars to SWEEPS-11. That seems a little harsh. Also, noise goes as root N.

Longer period transits are much harder to detect, and hence more valuable. Pushing into the habitable zone also seems like the direction that people are interested in going, and so I’ve assigned value in proportion to the square root of the orbital period. (One could alternately drop the square root.)

Eccentricity is a good thing. Planets on eccentric orbits can’t be stuck in synchronous rotation, and so their atmospheric dynamics, and the opportunities they present for interesting follow-up studies make them worth more when they transit.

Less massive planets are certainly better. I’ve assigned value in inverse proportion to mass.

Finally, small stars are better. A small star means a larger transit depth for a planet of given size, which is undeniably valuable. I’ve assigned value in proportion to transit depth, and I’ve also added a term, Np^2, that accounts for the fact that a transiting planet in a multiple-planet system is much sought-after. Np is the number of known planets in the system. Here are the results:

Planet Value
CoRoT-Exo-1 b $86,472
CoRoT-Exo-2 b $53,274
Gliese 436 b $4,356,408
HAT-P-1 b $969,483
HAT-P-2 b $85,507
HAT-P-3 b $285,768
HAT-P-4 b $189,636
HAT-P-5 b $146,178
HAT-P-6 b $245,873
HD 149026 b $792,760
HD 17156 b $953,665
HD 189733 b $2,665,371
HD 209458 b $11,084,661
Lupus TR 3 b $19,186
OGLE TR 10 b $66,112
OGLE TR 111 b $81,761
OGLE TR 113 b $40,153
OGLE TR 132 b $13,523
OGLE TR 182 b $16,743
OGLE TR 211 b $20,465
OGLE TR 56 b $21,680
SWEEPS 04 $2,004
SWEEPS 11 $211
TrES-1 $610,330
TrES-2 $124,021
TrES-3 $102,051
TrES-4 $225,464
WASP-1 $209,041
WASP-2 $207,305
WASP-3 $115,508
WASP-4 $114,737
WASP-5 $72,328
XO-1 $478,924
XO-2 $506,778
XO-3 $36,607

HD 209458 b is the big winner, as well it should be. The discovery papers for this planet are scoring hundreds of citations per year. It essentially launched the whole field. The STIS lightcurve is an absolute classic. Also highly valued are Gliese 436b, and HD 189733b. No arguing with those calls.

Only two planets seem obviously mispriced. Surely, it can’t be true that HAT-P-1 b is 10 times more valuable than HAT-P-2b? I’d gladly pay $85,507 for HAT-P-2b, and I’d happily sell HAT-P-1b for $969,483 and invest the proceeds in the John Deere and Apple Computer corporations.

Jocularity aside, a possible conclusion is that you should detect your transits from the ground and do your follow up from space — at least until you get down to R<2 Earth radii. At that point, I think a different formula applies.

Categories: detection Tags:

CoRoT-exo-2 c?

December 21st, 2007 13 comments

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The CoRoT mission announced their second transiting planet today, and it’s a weird one. The new planet has a mass of 3.53 Jupiter masses, a fleeting 1.7429964 day orbit, and a colossal radius. It’s fully 1.43 times larger than Jupiter.

The surface temperature on this planet is likely well above 1500K. Our baseline theoretical models predict that the radius of the planet should be ~1.13 Jupiter radii, which is much smaller than observed. Interestingly, however, if one assumes that a bit more than 1% of the stellar flux is deposited deep in the atmosphere, then the models suggest that the planet could easily be swollen to its observed size.

The surest way to heat up a planet is via forcing from tidal interactions with other, as-yet unknown planets in the system. If that’s what’s going on with CoRoT-exo-2 b, then it’s possible that the perturber can be detected via transit timing. The downloadable systemic console is capable of fitting to transit timing variations in conjunction with the radial velocity data. All that’s needed is a long string of accurate central transit times.

The parent star for CoRoT-exo-2-b is relatively small (0.94 solar radii) which means that the transit is very deep, of order 2.3%. That means good signal to noise. At V=12.6, the star should be optimally suited for differential photometry by observers with small telescopes. With a fresh transit occurring every 41 and a half hours, data will build up quickly. As soon as the coordinates are announced, observers should start bagging transits of this star and submitting their results to Bruce Gary’s Amateur Exoplanet Archive. (See here for a tutorial on using the console to do transit timing analyses.)

Categories: detection, systemic faq Tags:

6 Gigabytes. Two Stars. One Planet.

December 14th, 2007 6 comments

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Another long gap between posts. I’m starting to dig out from under my stack, however, and there’ll soon be some very interesting items to report.

As mentioned briefly in the previous post, our Spitzer observations of HD 80606 did indeed occur as scheduled. Approximately 7,800 8-micron 256×256 px IRAC images of the field containing HD 80606 and its binary companion HD 80607 were obtained during the 30-hour interval surrounding the periastron passage. On Nov. 22nd, the data (totaling a staggering 6 GB) was down-linked to the waiting Earth-based radio telescopes of NASA’s Deep Space Network. By Dec 4th, the data had cleared the Spitzer Science Center’s internal pipeline.

We’re living in a remarkable age. When I was in high school, I specifically remember standing out the backyard in the winter, scrutinizing the relatively sparse fields of stars in Ursa Major with my new 20×80 binoculars, and wondering whether any of them had planets. Now, a quarter century on, it’s possible to write and electronically submit a planetary observation proposal on a laptop computer, and then, less than a year later, 6 GB of data from a planet orbiting one of the stars visible in my binoculars literally rains down from the sky.

It will likely take a month or so before we’re finished with the analysis and the interpretation of the data. The IRAC instrument produces a gradually increasing sensitivity with time (known to the cognescenti as “the ramp”). This leads to a raw photometric light curve that slopes upward during the first hours of observation. For example, here’s the raw photometry from our Gliese 436 observations that Spitzer made last Summer. The ramp dominates the time series (although the secondary eclipse can also be seen):

The ramp differs in height, shape, and duration from case to case, but it is a well understood instrumental effect, and so its presence can be modeled out. Drake Deming is a world expert on this procedure, and so the data is in very capable hands. Once the ramp is gone, we’ll have a 2800-point 30 hour time series for both HD 80606 and HD 80607. We’ll be able to immediately see whether a secondary transit occurred (1 in 6.66 chance), and with more work, we’ll be able to measure how fast the atmosphere heats up during the periastron passage. Jonathan Langton is running a set of hydrodynamical simulations with different optical and infrared opacities, and we’ll be able to use these to get a full interpretation of the light curve.

In another exciting development, Joe Lazio, Paul Shankland, David Blank and collaborators were able to successfully observe HD 80606 using the VLA during the Nov. 19-20 periastron encounter! It’s not hard to imagine that there might be very interesting aurora-like effects that occur during the planet’s harrowing periastron passage. If so, the planet might have broadcasted significant power on the decameter band. Rest assured that when that when their analysis is ready, we’ll have all the details here at

Categories: detection, worlds Tags: