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Discover a planet

September 11th, 2007 3 comments

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My tight 30-minute layover in Denver turned into an eight-hour delay yesterday when a solenoid somewhere in our Boeing 777 malfunctioned just prior to pushback, giving me an unexpected opportunity to attempt to catch up on all the work that’s been piling up.

After 6 hours of tapping on the laptop, I’d exhausted my effectiveness, so I bought glossy magazines from the airport newstand. In the latest issue of Portfolio from Conde Nast, you can read an in-depth Vanity Fair style puff piece on ex-Tyco CFO Mark Swartz’s life in the Big House, and, in one of the advertisements, you’re encouraged to use a Visa “Signature” card to charge up some of the finer experiences in life. Quite to my surprise, #17 on a list that includes “See the Tony Awards live”, and “Test-drive a supercar”, is “Discover a planet”.

Now regular visitors to oklo.org all know that you can get your planet-discovery experience right here on the systemic backend without ever having to reach for your wallet. In fact, just yesterday, we learned from Gregory’s latest preprint on astro-ph that Eric Diaz (and a number of other systemic users) appear to have made the first characterizations of the most statistically probable planetary system fits to the HD 11964 radial velocity data set.

The HD 11964 data set was published by Butler et al. (2006). Two planets are already known to orbit this star. HD11964 b has roughly 1/3rd of a Saturn mass and a ~38-day orbit, whereas HD 11964 c is a sub-Jovian mass planet on a ~2110-day orbit. There’s a wide dynamically stable gap between the two planets, making this system a fertile hunting ground for additional companions.

Gregory does an extensive statistical analysis and argues that there’s strong evidence for a sub-Saturn mass planet on a year-long orbit. Eric Diaz’s version of this planet shows up in the fit that he submitted to systemic back in July 2007:

Eric also suggests the presence of a 12.4-day planet in the system. The Gregory analysis suggests that this planet is not statistically significant, but I’m going to add it to the transitsearch.org unpublished candidates list. There’s certainly no reason not to have a look-see if anyone has unused photometric capability.

Categories: detection, non-technical Tags:

HD 17156 at inferior conjunction (right now!)

September 10th, 2007 4 comments

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It’s 01:58 UT Sep. 10, and HD 17156 has moved into its transit window. Hopefully photometric transit observers across Europe have clear skies. If you’re collecting data, drop us a note on the comments page!


Sep 09, 2007 Europe Satellite Map Source.

Most of California looks pretty good for catching the latter part of the transit window once it gets dark tonight. I was up on Mt. Hamilton last night, and even though it was clear, there was a strong smell of smoke in the air. Bits of gray ash from the nearby forest fires were floating down like snow, and so they couldn’t open the dome of the 36-inch.


Image Source.

The odds of a HD 17156 transit are 10.9%, so its best not to get hopes up too high. Its always good to have the next candidate ready to go, and as luck has it, there’s another good one in the hopper.

Endl et al. have published a preprint describing the discovery of a Neptune-mass planet orbiting the nearby red dwarf star Gliese 176 (aka HD 285968). This discovery is further evidence in favor of the core-accretion prediction that Neptune planets should be common around low-mass stars whereas Jovian-mass planets should be relatively rare. Endl et al.’s new planet has an orbital period of 10.24 days, an a-priori transit probability of 3%, and an expected transit depth of 0.4%. This is a low-amplitude signal, but it is nevertheless accessible to many experienced amateur astronomers. The discovery paper makes no mention of a photometric transit search, making this planet a very attractive Transitsearch.org candidate. The star is located at RA 04:43, Dec +18:57, and the next transit window is centered on Sep. 15, 2007.

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HD 17156 b

September 4th, 2007 4 comments

Image Source.

Last week, I wrote a post introducing HD 17156 b, a Jovian planet on a highly eccentric 21.2-day orbit around a V=8.17 solar-type star lying 250 light-years away in Cassiopeia (RA=2h 50m, Dec=72 deg).

A photometric check for transits by HD 17156 b was reported in the discovery paper, but due to the nearly three-week orbital period, it was only possible to rule out about 25% of the transit window. Given the highly favorable geometry of the planetary orbit, this means that there’s an impressive ~11% chance (8.25% if you take the discount) that the planet can be observed in transit. The expected transit depth is a very respectable 1%, and given the bright parent star, it’s a straightforward detection for small-telescope observers everywhere in the Northern Hemisphere.

What’s it worth to catch HD 17156 b in transit? From a crass cash-money standpoint, one can estimate a dollar value. Because the planet has a long period and an eccentric orbit, it would be the first transiting example of its kind, and would thus be expected to generate a fairly large number of citations. From a career standpoint, an ADS citation is worth at least $100 (see, e.g. here). Based on the citation count for the TrES-1 discovery paper (144 citations in three years) it’s reasonable to expect that at one decade out, a HD 17156 b transit would garner of order 200 citations, for a conservative total value of 20K. Given the 10% probability of the transit coming through, the resulting expectation value is equivalent to having twenty Benjamins floating down from the black velvet of the night sky.

I used the systemic console’s bootstrap utility to generate a set of orbital fits to the published radial velocities for HD 17156. Each orbital fit describes a unique sequence of central transit times. For a particular transit opportunity, the aggregate of predicted central transit times from the different fits can be plotted as a histogram. Here’s the resulting plot for the transit opportunity that’ll occur next Monday (HJD 2454353.68):

The uncertainty in the time of central transit is ~0.3 days. A window this narrow is rare for a planet that hasn’t yet been thoroughly checked. In fact, as far as Transitsearch.org opportunities are concerned, it doesn’t get much better than this. Extending our opportunity cost analysis, the expected monetary return for observations within the 1-sigma transit window is an impressive $114 per hour. (Only rarely does the expected return per hour exceed minimum wage for existing transit opportunities.)

Scientifically, a transit by HD 17156 b would certainly be very exciting. The planet should be heating up very rapidly during its periastron passage, which should spur the generation of hemispheric-scale vortices and an 8-micron light curve that’s detectable with the Spitzer telescope. Observation of the secondary eclipse (assuming it occurs) would allow for a measurement of the global planetary temperature near the orbital apastron.

The frame above is from a hydrodynamical study of HD 17156 b that Jonathan Langton has just finished computing. If all the talk of dollars, ephemerides, opportunity cost, and expectation value is leaving you stressed out, then just kick back with this fat 1.0 MB .mov of the simulation and get your groove on.

Categories: detection, worlds Tags:

Countdown

August 20th, 2007 1 comment

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August 1st marked the most recent ‘606 day, which came and went without wide remark. Perhaps this was because in late Summer, HD 80606 rises and sets in near-synch the Sun, and is thus lost from the Earth’s night skies.

At the moment, HD 80606b is headed back out toward apastron.

The global storms and shockwaves that were unleashed at the beginning of August are dissipating rapidly, and the flux of heat from the planet is likely fading back down to the sullen baseline glow that arises from tidal heating.

HD 80606’s next periastron passage occurs on November 20th, and the Spitzer Space Telescope is scheduled to observe the whole event (details here). It’s going to be a big deal. Spitzer can only observe HD 80606 during two three-week windows each year, and fortunately, the Nov. 20th Periastron passage occurs during one of these windows. It’s literally the only opportunity to catch HD 80606 b’s big swing before Spitzer’s cryogen runs out in 2009.

The orbital geometry of the periastron passage looks like this:

Each marker of the orbit is separated by one hour. The prediction for the pseudo-synchronous rotation of the planet is also indicated. The planet should be spinning with a period of 36.8 hours. Jonathan Langton’s hydrodynamics code predicts what the temperature distribution on the planet should look like at each moment from Spitzer’s viewpoint in our solar system:

Transitsearch.org observers have covered a number of the HD 80606 b transit opportunities, and it seems pretty certain that the planet doesn’t transit. This isn’t surprising. The geometry of the orbit is such that when the planet crosses the plane containing the line of sight to the Earth, it’s quite a distance away from the star. Not so, however, for the secondary transit. There’s a very respectable 15% chance that Spitzer will detect a secondary transit centered two hours prior to the periastron passage.

Even if the planet doesn’t transit, we should be able to get a good sense of the orbital inclination from the shape of the light curve. If the orbit is nearly in the plane of the sky, then we should see a steady rise followed by a plateau in the 8-micron flux coming from the planet. For more nearly edge-on configurations, the flux peak should be clearly discernable. The observations are scheduled to start 20 hours prior to periastron and end 10 hours after.

Categories: detection, worlds Tags:

Whorls

August 5th, 2007 Comments off

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HAT-P-2b. The name doesn’t exactly ring of grandeur, but this planet — a product of Gáspár Bakos’ HAT Net transit survey — is poised to give the Spitzer Space Telescope its most dramatic glimpse to date of a hot Jupiter.

HAT-P-2b’s orbit is remarkably eccentric for a planet with an orbital period of only 5.6 days, and by a stroke of luck, periastron is located almost exactly midway between the primary and the secondary transits (as viewed from Earth). The strength of the stellar insolation at periastron is nine times as strong as at apastron, which more than guarantees that the planet will have disaster-movie-ready weather.

On June 6th, Josh Winn and his collaborators used the Keck telescope to obtain 97 radial velocities for HAT-P-2. The observations were timed to occur before, during, and after primary transit, and the Rossiter-McLaughlin effect is clearly visible in their data (preprint here):

The symmetry of the Rossitered points indicates that the angular momentum vector of the planetary orbit is aligned with the spin pole of the star:

schematic diagram showing rossiter effect

This state of affairs also holds true for the other transiting planets — HD 209458b, HD 149026b, HD 189733b — for which the effect has been measured. The observed alignments are evidence in favor of disk migration as the mechanism for producing hot Jupiters.

With its apparent magnitude of V=8.7, the HAT-P-2b parent star is roughly ten times brighter than the average planet-bearing star discovered in a wide-field transit survey. The star is bright enough, in fact, to have earned an entry in both the Henry Draper Catalog (HD 147506) and the Hipparcos Database (HIP 80076), but with its surface temperature of 6300K (F8 spectral type) it was too hot to have been a sure-fire “add” to the ongoing radial velocity surveys. Prior to this May, it had been entirely ignored in the astronomical literature (save a brief mention in this paper from 1969).

HAT-P-2’s intrisic brightness and its planet’s orbital geometry mean that in a relatively compact 34-hour observation, Spitzer can collect on the most interesting features of the orbit with high signal-to-noise. In particular, there is an excellent opportunity to measure the rate at which the day-side atmosphere heats up during the close approach to the star. The planet, in fact, presents such a remarkable situation that a block of Director’s Discretionary time was awarded so that the observations can be made during the current GO-4 cycle. They’ll be occurring soon.

Both HAT-P-2b and HD 80606 b will provide a crucial ground truth for extrasolar planetary climate simulations. Jonathan Langton’s current model, for example, predicts that that the temperatures on HAT-P-2b will range over more than 1000K. At the four times shown in the above orbital diagram, the hemisphere facing Earth is predicted to show the following appearances:

Spitzer, of course, can’t resolve the planetary disk. It measures the total amount of light coming from the planet in chosen passband. At 8-microns, the planet’s light curve should look like this:

The temperature maps only hint at the complex dynamics of the surface flow. A better indication is given by the distribution of vorticity,

which we’ll pick up in the next post…

Categories: detection, worlds Tags:

HAT-P-3b

July 29th, 2007 Comments off

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The HATNet survey’s latest single, “3b” landed on the charts last week at #12. This hot (Teff~1053K) new disk shows a definite metal influence, which makes sense, given that [Fe/H] for the parent star is an Ozzy-esque +0.27. You can get a free download of the paper from the Extrasolar Planets Encyclopaedia.

The past twelve months has seen the inventory of known transiting planets more than double, as wide-field surveys such as TrES, Exo, and HATnet start to reach the full production end of their observational pipelines. As the number of planets reaches the threshold for statistical comparisons, interesting trends (or possible trends) have started to emerge.

By far the most remarkable correlation, however, has been with respect to sky location. Among the fourteen fully announced transiting planets orbiting stars with V<14, every single one is located north of the celestial equator.

Planet

Mass

Mjup

Period

days

Dec V
Gl 436b 0.07 2.64385 +26 42 10.68
HAT-P-1 b 0.53 4.46529 +38 40 10.4
HAT-P-3 b 0.61 2.8999 +48 02 11.86
HAT-P-2 b 8.64 5.63341 +41 03 8.71
HD 149026 b 0.36 2.8766 +38 21 8.15
HD 189733 b 1.15 2.21857 +22 43 7.67
HD 209458 b 0.69 3.52475 +18 53 7.65
TrES-1 0.61 3.03007 +36 38 11.79
TrES-2 1.98 2.4703 +49 19 11.41
TrES-3 1.92 1.30619 +37 33 12.4
WASP-1 b 0.89 2.51997 +31 59 11.79
WASP-2 b 0.88 2.152226 +06 26 11.98
XO-1 b 0.9 3.941534 +28 10 11.3
XO-2 b 0.57 2.615838 +50 13 11.18

Looks like there’s some opportunity down under…

Categories: detection Tags:

A hot hot Neptune

July 20th, 2007 11 comments

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Regular oklo readers will recall Gillon et al.’s discovery that the Neptune-mass planet orbiting the red dwarf star Gl 436 can be observed in transit. Transitsearch got scooped, and the whole eposide got me all worked up enough to neglect the exigencies of everyday academic life and reel off three straight posts on the detection and its consequences (see here, here, here, and also here). The transits of Gl 436 b are a big deal because they indicate that the planet is possibly composed largely of water. It’s not a bare rock and it’s not a Jupiter-like gas giant. Rather, it’s consistent with being a fully Neptune-like object, hauled in for inspection on a 2.64385 day orbit.

Following Gillon et al.’s announcement, it became clear that Gl 436 transits would fit into a window of observability during the June 24th – July 04 IRAC campaign on the Spitzer Space Telescope. The red dwarf parent star, furthermore, because of its proximity, is bright enough for Spitzer to achieve good photometric signal-to-noise at 8-microns. As a result, Joe Harrington’s Spitzer Target of Opportunity GO-4 proposal was triggered, and the Deep Space Network radioed instructions to the spacecraft to observe the primary transit on June 29th, as well as the secondary eclipse (when the planet passes behind the star) on June 30th, a bit more than half an orbit later. Joe, along with his students Sarah Navarro and William Bowman, and collaborators Drake Deming, Sara Seager, and Karen Horning asked me if I wanted to participate in the analysis. After watching all the ‘436 action from the sidelines in May, I was more than happy to sign up!

One of the most exciting aspects of being a scientist is the round-the-clock push to get a time-sensitive result in shape for publication. There’s a fantastic sense of camaraderie as e-mails, calculations, figures and drafts fly back and forth. On Monday afternoon PDT (shortly after midnight GMT) when Mike Valdez sent out his daily astro-ph summary, it was suddenly clear that we were under tremendous pressure to get our results analyzed and submitted. The Geneva team had swooped in and downloaded the data for the primary transit the moment it was released to the community! They had cranked out a reduction, an analysis, and a paper, all within 48 hours. Their light curve confirmed the ground-based observations. Spitzer’s high-quality photometry indicates that the planet is slightly larger than had been indicated by the ground-based transit observations. Drake submitted our paper yesterday afternoon.

Fortunately for us, the real prize from Spitzer is the secondary eclipse. Its timing is capable of independently confirming that the orbit is eccentric, and the depth gives an indication of the surface temperature on the planet itself.

The upper panel of the following figure shows the raw Spitzer photometry during the secondary eclipse window. IRAC photometry at 8 μm is known to exhibit a gradually increasing ramp-up in sensitivity, due to filling of charge traps in the detectors, but even before this effect is modeled and subtracted, the secondary transit is visible to the eye. The bottom panel shows the secondary transit in detail.

The secondary transit occurs 58.7% of an orbit later than the primary transit, which proves that the orbit is eccentric. A detailed fit to the transit times and to the radial velocities indicates that the orbital eccentricity is e=0.15 — halfway between that of Mars (e=0.1) and Mercury (e=0.2). The orbital geometry can be drawn to scale in a diagram that’s 440 pixels across:

The depth of the secondary eclipse is 0.057%, which allowed us to estimate a 712 ± 36K temperature for the planetary surface.

A temperature of 700+ K is hotter than expected. If we assume that the planet absorbs all the energy that it gets from the star and re-radiates its heat uniformly from the entire planetary surface, then the temperature should be T = 642 K. The higher temperature implied by the secondary eclipse depth could arise from inefficient transport of heat to the night side of the planet, from a non-“blackbody” planetary emission spectrum, from tidal heating, or from a combination of the three. If the excess heat is all coming from tidal dissipation, then the Q-value for the planet is 7000, suggesting that it’s a bit more dissipative inside than Uranus and Neptune.

What would Gl 436 b look like if we could go there? To dark adapted eyes, the night side is just barely hot enough to produce a faint reddish glow (as is the case on the surface of Venus, which has a similar temperature). The atmosphere is too hot for water clouds, and is likely transparent down to a fairly high atmospheric pressure level. The day-side probably reflects a #E0B0FF-colored hue that contrasts with the orange-yellow light of the star. The planet spins with a period of 2.32 days so that it can be as spin-synchronous as possible during the sector of its orbit closest to periastron. At a fixed longitude on the planet, the day drags on for 456 hours from high noon to high noon.

Jonathan Langton has been running atmospheric simulations with the latest parameters. On the phone, just a bit ago, he would only say that the preliminary results were “interesting”…

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Second quarter earnings report

July 14th, 2007 3 comments

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On Thursday and Friday of last week, the Dow Jones Industrial Average jumped nearly 2%. Given the soaring price of oil and the subprime mortgage crisis, many students of the financial markets were puzzled by this seeming burst of irrational exuberance.

A visit to exoplanet.eu, however, suggests that investors and speculators were placing buy orders in response to the rapid recent increase in the number of known planets. During the first two quarters of ’07, the extrasolar planet detection rate has been running more that 100% above the rate reported for the most recent full fiscal year.

When asked about the impact of the new discoveries, one metals trader was quoted, “Well, Mate, the Marketplace has been pricing in the core-accretion theory for several years now. That means we’re looking at a Z of ~0.1 for each one of these planets coming in, so that’s roughly 30 Earth masses of ore per extrasolar planet. If we use the solar gold assay, that works out to one quintillion ounces of new proven reserves for each discovery. With gold at $660, we’re starting to talk real money.”

Jocularity aside, the raft of new planet discoveries is having a noticeable impact on the correlation diagrams that can be explored at the exoplanets.eu site. One (likely statistically insignificant) curiosity is the lack of Saturn-mass planets in this year’s crop to date. At the low-mass end, Neptunes such as Gl 674b are turning up with increasing frequency, and the detection-rate for Jupiter-mass planets and above also remains strong. This dichotomy is very much in line with a key prediction of core-accretion in its simplest form. The rapid gas accretion that occurs once the planet mass reaches ~30 Earth masses should tend to make Saturn-mass planets relatively rare.

Another interesting diagram results when one plots the masses and eccentricities of the known RV-detected planets. A glance at the resulting diagram indicates that low-mass planets tend to be on more circular orbits. Could this be hinting at two populations of planets and (perhaps) two different formation mechanisms? It’s hard to tell. Much of the effect comes from the fact that low-mass planets need to have short periods in order to be detectable. Short-period planets, in turn, are far more affected by tidal circularization of the orbits. The plot is also reflecting the still-mysterious (but well known) shortage of high-mass hot Jupiters.

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A Habitable Earth

June 17th, 2007 7 comments

Image Source.

There remain three blockbuster, front-page discoveries in exoplanetary science. The first is the identification of a potentially habitable Earth-mass planet around another star. The second is the detection of a life-bearing planet. The third is contact with extraterrestrial intelligence.

It’s hard to predict when (and in which order) discoveries #2 and #3 will take place. Discovery #1, on the other hand, is imminent. We’re currently 2±1 years away from the detection of the first habitable Earth-mass planet (which implies ~15% chance that the announcement will come within one year).

The breakthrough detection of a habitable Earth will almost certainly stem from high-precision Doppler monitoring of a nearby red dwarf star, and already, both the Swiss team and the California-Carnegie team are coming tantalizingly close. The following table of notable planet detections around red dwarfs gives an interesting indication of how the situation is progressing:

Planet

M star

M sin(i)

date K #obs sig µ
Gl 876 b 0.32 615 1998 210 13 6.0 247
Gl 876 c 0.32 178 2001 90 50 5.0 127
Gl 436 b 0.44 22.6 2004 18.1 42 4.5 26
Gl 581 b 0.31 15.7 2005 13.2 20 2.5 23
Gl 876 d 0.32 5.7 2005 6.5 155 4.0 20
Gl 674 b 0.35 11.8 2007 8.7 32 0.82 60
Gl 581 d 0.31 7.5 2007 2.7 50 1.23 16
Gl 581 c 0.31 5.0 2007 2.4 50 1.23 14

The masses of the stars and planets are given in Solar and Earth masses respectively. The year of discovery for each planet is listed, along with the half-amplitude, K, of the stellar reflex velocity (in m/s), the number of RV observations on which the detection was based, the average reported instrumental error (sigma) associated with the discovery observations, and a statistic, “µ”, which is K/sigma multiplied by the square root of the number of observations at the time of announcement. The µ-statistic is related to the power in the periodogram, and gives an indication of the strength of the detection signal at the time of discovery. In essence, the lower the µ, the riskier (gutsier) the announcement.

What will it take to get a habitable Earth? Let’s assume that a 0.3 solar mass red dwarf has an Earth-mass planet in a habitable, circular, 14-day orbit. The radial velocity half-amplitude of such a planet would be K=0.62 m/s. Let’s say that you can operate at 1.5 m/s precision and are willing to announce at µ=20. The detection would require N=2,341 radial velocities. This could be accomplished with an all-out effort on a proprietary telescope, but would require a lot of confidence in your parent star. To put things in perspective, the detection would cost ~10 million dollars and would take ~2 years once the telescope was built.

Alternately, if the star and the instrument cooperate to give a HARPS-like precision of 1 m/s, and one is willing to call CNN at µ=14, then the detection comes after 500 radial velocities. The Swiss can do this within 2 years on a small number of favorable stars using HARPS, and California-Carnegie could do it on a handful of the very best candidate stars once APF comes on line. Another strategy would be to talk VLT or Keck into giving several weeks of dedicated time to survey a few top candidates. Keck time is worth ~$100K per night, meaning that we’re talking a several-million dollar gamble. Any retail investor focused hedge funds out there want to make a dramatic marketing impact? Or for that matter, with oil at $68 a barrel, a Texas Oil Man could write a check to commandeer HET for a full season and build another one in return. “A lone star for the Lone Star.”

If I had to bet on one specific headline for one specific star, though, here’s what I’d assign the single highest probability:

The Swiss Find a habitable Earth orbiting Proxima Centauri. Frequent visitors to oklo.org know about our preoccupation with the Alpha-Proxima Centauri triple system. We’ve looked in great detail at the prospects for detecting a habitable planet around Alpha Centauri B, and Debra Fischer and I are working to build a special-purpose telescope in South America to carry out this campaign (stay tuned for more on this fairly soon). Proxima b, on the other hand, might be ready to announce right now on the basis of a HARPS data set, and the case is alarmingly compelling.

Due to its proximity, Proxima is bright enough (V=11) for HARPS to achieve its best radial precision. For comparison, Gl 581 is just slightly brighter at V=10.6. Proxima is effortlessly old, adequately quiet, and metal-rich. If our understanding of planet formation is first-order correct, it has several significant terrestrial-mass planets. The only real questions in my mind are, the inclination of the system plane, the exact values of the orbital periods, and whether N_p = 2, 3, 4 or 5.

The habitable zone around Proxima is close-in. With an effective temperature of 2670K, and a radius 15% that of the Sun, one needs to be located at 0.03 AU from the star to receive the same amount of energy that the Earth receives from the Sun. (Feel free to post comments on tidal locking, x-ray flares, photosynthesis under red light conditions, etc. Like it or not, if the likes of Gl 581 c is able to generate habitability headlines and over-the-top artist’s impressions, just think what a 1 Earth-Mass, T=300 K Proxima Centauri b will do…) A best guess for Proxima’s mass is 12% that of the Sun. An Earth in the habitable zone thus produces a respectable K=1.5 m/s radial velocity half-amplitude. It’s likely that HARPS gets 1.2 m/s precision on Proxima. A µ=15 detection thus requires only 144 RV observations. Given that Proxima is observable for 10 months of the year at -30 South Latitude, there are presumably already more than 100 observations in the bag. We could thus get an announcement of Proxima Cen b as early as tomorrow.

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Relaunch

June 12th, 2007 3 comments

Image Source.

The Transitsearch collaboration has been active since 2001, and has fallen somewhat short of success. When reporters from the likes of space dot com call, they always want to know, “How many planets have you guys discovered?”

“Zero.”

The project has, however, been of some value. It’s helped publicize the fact that small telescopes can be of remarkable utility in carrying out photometric follow-up observerations. The basic strategy of checking Doppler-detected planets at the predicted transit times has proved its worth for the Swiss with the transits of Gl 436 b. But the fact is unavoidable. Transitsearch needs to step up several levels if it’s going to compete.

I’m thus in the midst of implementing a major overhaul of the site resources. To get away from the tonight-we’re-gonna-html like it’s 1999 feel, I’ve given the website a new look. Check it out.

Not everything is in place yet, but the server that hosts the systemic backend is now also keeping the candidates tables up to date. The ephemerides are incrementally updated every ten minutes, and so the transit window column now has a much finer resolution. It gives a quick overview of which planets are transiting (or potentially transiting) right now.

A Transitsearch observer seeking to get a first detection of a transiting extrasolar planet still starts at a major disadvantage. The radial velocity survey teams all have in-house photometric observers who monitor their candidate stars prior to announcement, and they thus have first dibs on the stars that are most likely to pan out with transits. This vertically integrated strategy will continue to monopolize the detection of hot Jupiters like HD 209458b, HD 149026b, and HD 189733b that transit bright stars.

Ideally, we need to get an open-source dedicated radial velocity observatory up and running to really feed transitsearch and the systemic backend, and we are looking at avenues to make this happen. In the interim, however, we can tap the growing fit database on the systemic backend for suitable candidate planets that have not yet been published in the literature. There are a number of planetary candidates that have low false-alarm probabilities and are dynamically stable (see also here).

To get things started, I’ve taken two candidate planets — HD 19994 c and HD 216770 c — from the probable planet discoveries page on the backend wiki, and reproduced the fits on the downloadable console. With a fit in hand, it’s straightforward to use the bootstrap utility to compute errors on the orbital parameters, and to produce transit ephemerides and observing windows. These first two candidates are listed in a table on the Transitsearch website, and we’ll be adding many more potential planets in the near future:

HD 216770 “c”, for example, has a period of 12.456 +/- 0.019 days, and Msin(i)~60 Earth Masses. If it exists, it has a 3.1% chance of transiting, and would likely produce a transit depth of a bit more than 1%. The radial velocity data set for HD 216770 is several years old, and so the transit window has, frustratingly, widened to about 8 days.

Let’s try to identify additional candidates that are (1) dynamically stable, (2) have Msin(i)>0.05 Jupiter Masses, (3) F-test statistics below 0.2, and (4) periods less than 100 days. If you find them, add them to the backend wiki, or as comments to this post.

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