Posts Tagged ‘transits’

Hot enough for ya?

September 7th, 2009 4 comments

A recent article in Nature reports that WASP-18b has emerged victorious in the ongoing exoplanetary limbo competition.

WASP-18b is also a strong contender in the least-habitable-planet-yet-detected competition. It has a mass roughly ten times Jupiter’s and skims 2.6 stellar radii above the surface of the parent star. The orbital period is a mere 22 hours 36 minutes. A year in less than a day.

To the offhand glance, even the simple presence of the planet seems puzzling. It’s so close to its parent star that tidal orbital decay should haul it in for destruction on a timescale that’s alarmingly short in comparison to the ~1 billion year age of the parent star. Either WASP-18b has been found on the very cusp of its dénouement (which seems unlikely) or tidal dissipation in the parent star is much lower than in a star like the Sun.

Darin Ragozzine pointed me to to a recent article by Barker and Ogilvie that indicates that WASP-18 may indeed be very poor at dissipating tidal energy. It’s an F-type star, somewhat more massive than the sun, with a negligible convective envelope, and no good recourse to turning tidal waves into heat. It’s like a bell that can ring and ring without making a sound. According to Barker and Ogilvie, similarly inviscid F-type parent stars are also responsible for the survival of WASP-12 and OGLE-TR-56b. Their prediction for WASP-18b would be that changes in the orbital period will not be observable, even with the excellent precision that will be obtained by timing the orbit over periods of a decade or more.

Darin also pointed out something else that’s pretty cool. As is also the case with HD 209458b and HD 189733b, the transit of WASP-18b is readily visible in the archived photometry from the Hipparcos mission. Indeed, the planet has been sitting in open view on the web for well over a decade, assuming, of course, that one knew exactly where to look. To see it with 20-20 hindsight, use the folding applet provided at the Hipparcos web site. Enter the Hipparcos catalog number (7562) for the parent star, and fold the 130 published photometric measurements at the 0.94145299 day orbital period. Can you see the transit?

On worlds like WASP-18b, surface temperatures are well in excess of 2000 K. Under such conditions, the ionization fraction is high enough that the planetary magnetic field can affect the weather.

On Earth, where air is composed of neutral atoms and molecules, the wind blows right through magnetic field lines. By contrast, on WASP-18b, the ionization fraction is high enough that the winds will have a tendency to drag the planetary magnetic field lines along. This stretches the field lines, and like rubber bands, they offer a restoring force. Whereas ordinary exoplanetary weather can be described using the equations of hydrodynamics, on an ultra-hot Jupiter, the richer behavior of magnetohydrodynamics comes into play. As a consequence, I have little intuitive sense of what’s going on at the sub-stellar point of WASP-18b, but I’ve got little doubt that it’s interesting and complicated.

Categories: worlds Tags: , , , ,

Latest ‘606 news

July 30th, 2009 2 comments

An unsung advantage of long-period transiting planets is that the occultations occur on a civilized timescale. An interval of 111.4357 days is long enough not to feel pressured, rushed, or in constant danger of getting scooped. This is in stark contrast, to, say, managing your affairs with a fixed 2.2185733 day turn-around time.

Earlier this summer, there were two papers, one by Pont et al. and one by Gillon which presented complete, leisurely analyses that combine all of the available photometric and RV data for the HD 80606 system taken through the Valentine’s Day 2009 transit. These papers adopted a fully Bayesian approach to analyzing the heterogeneous data sets, and were able to improve the system’s vital stats: The planet has a radius very similar to Jupiter. The full duration of the transit is close to 12 hours (and uncertain to a bit more than an hour). With high confidence, the planet’s orbit is badly misaligned with the stellar equator — just as expected from the Kozai migration hypothesis.

Last night, Josh Winn sent me a new preprint that reports results from an extensive campaign that he spearheaded to observe the June 4th/5th 2009 transit. June, to put it mildly, is not exactly an ideal time to observe HD 80606 from Earth. The nights in the Northern Hemisphere are short, and the star sets early. At any given spot, you can get at best a few hours of uninterrupted data. Nevertheless, it was of great interest to bag the transit. The ingress was weathered out during the February event, and so the analyses of Pont et al. and Gillon had to lean rather heavily on the Good Reverend Bayes.

Josh’s strategy was to recruit an East-to-West swath of observers in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Florida, Indiana, Texas, Arizona, California, and Hawaii. The idea was that 168 electoral votes would be enough to tilt the contest in favor of the good guys.

The multi-state strategy paid off. By stringing together the individual photometric blocks, the first half of the transit was nicely resolved. At the finish line, on the summit of Mauna Kea, the Keck telescope stepped up to the podium to obtain a series of mid-transit spectroscopic measurements that further confirmed the severe spin-orbit misalignment.

.ppt-ready higher resolution version

This is just the sort of project that underscores the great value of ad-hoc collaborations. The Florida ingress observations, for example, were made using the University of Florida’s recently refurbished Rosemary Hill Observatory, 30 miles from Gainesville. The DeKalb observations, made by Indiana amateur Donn Starkey, produced reduced data that were among the best in the entire aggregate. Mount Laguna Observatory, run by San Diego State University, has generated many cutting-edge exoplanet observations, including critical photometry in the Fall 2007 HD 17156b campaign. The University of Hawaii 2.2m telescope turned out photometry with astonishing rms=0.00031 precision. And as the cherry on top, the simultaneous commandeering of not one but two major telescopes on Mauna Kea? It seems that perhaps someone has made a Faustian bargain.

Categories: worlds Tags: , ,

Saros 136

July 29th, 2009 Comments off

My UCSC Astronomy Dept. colleague Enrico Ramirez-Ruiz sent me a cool graph the other day. It amounts to a photometric transit observation of an R~1700 Km satellite of a habitable terrestrial planet.

Enrico writes:

The attached figure shows the main power voltage to LAT (Large Area Telescope instrument on the Fermi Satellite). There is a regular pattern of increasing voltage when the battery is being charged, a plateau when charging is complete but we are still in sunlight, and discharge when Fermi moves out of sun. You can see a sudden dip in voltage at 3:30 UT when the sun is blocked.

Last week’s total solar eclipse prompted me to think back to the last millennium, to July 11, 1991, when the previous eclipse of Saros series 136 occurred. My fellow graduate students and I drove down to the center line near the tip of the Baja Peninsula. I wrote down my recollections, which we later adapted for one of the chapter vignettes in The Five Ages.

The partial eclipse phases lasted for more than an hour. Even as an ever-larger fraction of the Sun was obscured, the change was so gradual that eyes adjusted continuously. The slackening of the daylight went unnoticed until about fifteen minutes before totality, as more than 90 percent of the Sun’s face was obscured. Due to the reduced sunshine over a swatch of the Earth as large as the diameter of the Moon, the morning was unusually cool for a Mexican July. By 10:00 A.M., the temperature was only in the seventies. The thermometer dropped slightly as the eclipse progressed, and when the daylight finally began to visibly dim, the air seemed almost chilly. The surface of the ocean looked dull and flat, but without the slate gray color of a cloudy day. Cumulus clouds billowed over the distant spine of mountains like an accelerated film.

All at once, the dunes were awash in subtle shadowy ripples, like caustics at the bottom of a midday swimming pool. The ripples drifted slowly across the sand, their contrast flickering. The bands persisted for less than a minute, and then seemed to evaporate. The wind seemed to grow stronger.

With only a minute left, the sky grew darker every second. The air was alive with flapping fruit bats that had been fooled into emerging by the unnatural dusk. A dangerous stray glance at the sun gave a moment’s impression of a starlike point. With five seconds left, the black shadow of totality swept toward us across the water at nearly two thousand miles an hour.

The starlike impression of the Sun was superseded by the disk of the Moon easing into place. A final, fleeting, brilliant burst of light flashed out as the Sun shone through a valley on the limb of the Moon. Totality descended, the stars leapt out, and the nebulous electric blue corona arced away from the black disk.

Categories: worlds Tags:

A look inside an extrasolar planet

July 28th, 2009 1 comment

Image Source.

Cranking out a paper invariably takes longer than one expects. Last week, I was confident that Konstantin and Peter and I would have our HAT-P-13 paper out in “a day or so”, and then it ended up taking the whole week. As of ten minutes ago, however, it’s been shipped off to the Astrophysical Journal Letters. It’s also been submitted to astro-ph, hopefully in time to make tomorrow’s mailing.

In the meantime, here’s a link to (1) the .pdf of our text, and (2) the two figures (one, two) both in .gif format. The two figures are 800 pixels across, all the better for dropping in to presentations.

Put briefly, HAT-P-13 is an absolutely remarkable set-up. The presence of the outer perturbing body in its well-defined orbit allowed us to show that the system has undergone long-term evolution to a “tidal fixed point”. In this state of affairs, secular variations in the orbital elements of the two planets have been damped out by tidal dissipation, the apsidal lines of the orbits have been brought into alignment, and most importantly, the two orbits precess at the same rate. The paper shows how the eccentricity of the inner planet is a sensitive function of the planet’s interior structure, and in particular, the degree of central concentration (parameterized by the “Tidal Love Number”, k_2).

Here’s a schematic that shows what’s going on:

Right now, the eccentricity of the inner planet is determined to rather modest precision e=0.021 +/- 0.009. The system is transiting, however, and so when Warm Spitzer measures the secondary eclipse time, the error on the eccentricity measurement will drop dramatically. The situation will also benefit from an improved measurement of the planet’s radius. When improved measurements come in, it’ll be possible to literally read off the planet’s core mass and, in addition, the value of the much-discussed tidal quality factor Q.

Categories: worlds Tags: , , , ,

Lucky 13

July 23rd, 2009 4 comments

In reviewing grant proposals and observing proposals that seek to study extrasolar planets, one notices that two cliches turn up with alarm-clock regularity. Number one is Rosetta Stone, as in this or that planetary system is a Rosetta Stone that will enable astronomers to obtain a better understanding of the formation and evolution of planetary systems. Number two is ideal laboratory, as in this or that system is an ideal laboratory for studying the processes that guide the formation and evolution of planetary systems.

A terse unsolicited e-mail from Gaspar Bakos always means that a big discovery is in the offing, and today was no exception:

Hello Greg,

You may like this.

Best wishes

Indeed! HAT-P-13b and c constitute a really exciting discovery. For a number of reasons, this system is a Rosetta Stone among extrasolar planets, and in large part, this is because the system is an ideal laboratory for studying processes such as tidal dissipation and orbital evolution.

HAT-P-13 harbors the first transiting planet that has a well-characterized companion planet. In this case, the outer companion has a P=428 day orbit, an Msin(i) of 15 Jupiter masses, and an eccentricity, e=0.7. In the following diagram, the orbits and the star are shown to scale; the small filled circles that delineate the outer orbit show the position of the outer planet at 4.28 day intervals.

Illustrator-editable PDF of the above

Of obvious interest is the question of whether planet c can be observed in transit. The a-priori probability is seemingly enhanced by the transit of the inner planet. (Give that one to the good Reverend Bayes). The next opporunity rolls around in April 2010, with the opportunity to observe secondary transit following a bit more than two months later.

It’ll be quite something if planet “c” does transit. A sense of the wide open spaces in the system can be obtained by plotting the star and the two planets to scale with their respective separations at the moment of inferior conjunction. Given the width restriction of the blog post format, one needs to present this plot vertically:

There’s a lot more to say about the HAT-P-13 system — so much in fact, that Peter Bodenheimer, Konstantin Batygin and I are furiously writing an ApJ letter. Should have it out the door in a day or so, with a roundup to follow here on immediately thereafter…

Categories: detection Tags: , , ,

scenario one

March 17th, 2009 6 comments

HD 28185bb

Without regard to order of likelihood, I thought it’d be interesting to lay out a few very specific scenarios by which the first extrasolar world with a 1 million+ habitability valuation could be discovered.

A favorite space-art trope is the habitable moon orbiting the giant planet (which is generally well-endowed with an impressive ring system). Smoggy frigid Titan is the best our solar system can do along these lines, but there’s nothing preventing better opportunities for habitability lying further afield.

I’ve always been intrigued by the fact that the regular satellite systems of the solar system giants each contain of order 2 parts in 10,000 of the mass of the parent planet. At present, there’s no reason to expect that this scaling is any different for extrasolar planets, and given the example of Titan, there doesn’t seem to be anything to prevent the bulk of a given planet’s satellite mass from being tied up in a single large body. Furthermore, since it’s my weblog, I’ll take the liberty of assuming that the satellite mass fraction scales with stellar metallicity.

Image source.

It’s perfectly reasonable to imagine, then, that HD 28185b is accompanied by a 0.63 M_earth, 0.86 R_earth satellite with an orbital radius of a million kilometers. HD 28185b itself has Msin(i)=5.7 Mjup, and the metallicity of HD 28185 is [Fe/H]=+0.24.

Now, for a long shot: let’s assume that on July 11th, 2009, a cadre of small telescope observers in Australia, South Africa and South America discover that HD 28185b transits its parent star. The geometric a-priori odds of the transit are ~0.5%. The expected transit depth is an eminently detectable 1%. A transit of moderate impact parameter lasts about 12 hours.

If a detection is made on July 11th, 2009, it’s a sure thing that the following transit (July 29th, 2010) will be the subject of great scrutiny. The current ground-based state of the art using orthogonal transfer arrays is demonstrating 0.4 mmag photometry with 80 second cadence. At this level, with spot filters and several observatory-class telescopes participating, the piggyback detection of the satellite transit is a many-sigma detection.The cake would be iced on Aug 16th, 2011, when the ~25 second difference in midpoint-to-midpoint intervals would be detected. We’d then be in possession of a potentially habitable terrestrial world warmed by an admirably bright and nearby parent star. Accurate mass and radius determinations would be fully forthcoming. All from the ground, and all at a total cost measured in thousands of dollars of amortized telescope time on existing facilities.

Admittedly, the odds of this specific scenario are slim. I estimate one in two thousand. The payoff, however, is massive. HD 28185bb (with the properties given above) is worth a staggering 100 million dollars. In expectation, then, that’s 50,000 dollars for fully covering the transit window this July…

The McLaughlin-Rossiter effect

March 6th, 2009 5 comments

The visible universe contains of order 30,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 planets, and so this web log’s rather single-minded focus on HD 80606b (a staggering eight out of the nine most recent posts) is likely starting to wear a little thin, even for the Kid606 fan base. One more post, though, and then I’ll move along.

First, I was jazzed to get an e-mail from Mauro Barbieri (of 17156, etc. fame) reporting that two Italian amateur observers (Alessandro Marchini from Siena, Tuscany, and Giorgio Corfini, from Lucca, Tuscany) got discovery photometry of the HD 80606b transit on Feb. 13th/14th. Their light curves are of quite high quality, and, like all the European observations show the leisurely egress from transit:

Excellent work!

A few long-time readers may recall that in the transit fever post from several years ago, I tried on a “tough guy” persona with regards to partial transits:

The transit detection problem is tough in part because it’s extraordinarily easy for systematic effects to seemingly conspire to produce an apparent signal. I would not feel confident in announcing a transit until I’ve seen multiple full-transit light curves. On the other hand, though, the false alarms play an important role. They get observers out on the sky, and spur the collection of enough data to truly rule out an event.

This hard-line attitude resulted from catching numerous infections of ingressia in which a time-series seems to show a transit starting just as observations are ending:


and egressia in which a transit seems to be ending just as observations are starting:


With HD 80606b, however, it’s perfectly certain that we’re not dealing with a virulent case of egressia. The transit did occur and that it will occur in the future. This confidence stems both from the fact that there are at least seven independent photometric data sets showing the egress, and from the fact that the French-Swiss team (Moutou et al. 2009) observed the transit spectroscopically via the Rossiter-McLaughlin effect.

The Rossiter-McLaughlin effect arises when a transiting planet occults part of a rotating star. When a planet passes in front of the oncoming limb, it blocks out blue-shifted light, whereas it blocks out red-shifted light when covering the outgoing limb. The resulting distortions in the spectra are interpreted as a positive and then negative shift in the radial velocity of the star. The amplitude of this effect is thus due both to the spin velocity of the star as well as to the total flux blocked out during transit:

schematic diagram showing rossiter effect

Moutou et al.’s detection of the Rossiter-McLaughlin effect for HD 80606b provided drop-dead confirmation of the transit, and also hinted that the planetary orbital plane is not aligned with the equator of the star (which is not surprising, given the probable history of the ‘606 system). Here’s a re-working of the diagram from the Moutou et al. paper that takes the London and Arizona photometry into account (you may want to make your browser window wider):

Illustrator .ai file for above image

The Arizona and London photometry rule out transits longer than ~12 hours, which strengthens Moutou et al.’s conclusion that the system is far from having the stellar equator aligned with the orbital plane.

Earlier this week, I was having an e-mail conversation with Bruce Gary, who runs the Amateur Exoplanet Archive (a.k.a. AXA). The AXA is a repository for photometric transit data from small telescopes, and a first stop for anyone interested in the detection of planets via transit timing.

Bruce wrote:

By the way, does the Rossiter-McLaughlin effect refer to the Dean McLaughlin who speculated about Mars, and who worked at the Univ Michigan Observatory in the late 1950s & early 1960s?

A bit of ADS sleuthing reveals that the two McLaughlins are one and the same. In 1924, Richard Rossiter and Dean McLaughlin simultaneously published the first measurements of spin-orbit alignment in eclipsing binary systems. Both men were at the University of Michigan — Rossiter as an assistant professor and McLaughlin as a 23-year old graduate student. McLaughlin used the famous eclipsing binary Algol to measure the time-dependent radial velocity skew in the brighter star of the system during the partial eclipse. His paper, “Some Results from a Spectroscopic Study of the Algol System”, makes a nice read today, and has garnered 45 citations since 2000. Its single figure shows the now-familiar effect, albeit with a factor-of-a-thousand increase in the scale of the y-axis:

McLaughlin remained at the University of Michigan during a productive career that ended with his untimely death in 1965. He seemed to have had a sensibility that was quite in line with Consider, for instance, this abstract from 1944:

Bruce later wrote back with small-world anecdote:

As I was finishing high school my father counseled me to not choose astronomy for a profession because Dean McLaughlin’s two boys were in his Ann Arbor High School English class and their clothes gave the impression that the McLaughlins were a poor family! That influenced my decision to enter the University of Michigan’s School of Engineering, but after a year my childhood hobby won out and I switched to Literature, Science and Arts so I could major in astronomy.



February 26th, 2009 5 comments

The primary transit of HD 80606b

After 10 days of no news, definitively flat news (Arizona) and tantalizing hints in my inbox, the HD 80606b transit story is resolving itself dramatically.

Earlier today, Stephen Fossey, Ingo Waldmann and David Kipping submitted their paper on the detection. I based the diagram on the results of their photometry, which points to a twelve hour transit, and a planetary radius just larger than Jupiter:

Fossey et al. photometry of the primary transit of HD 80606b

The Fossey et al observations were made using two small telescopes at the University College London’s observatory in Mill Hill, North London. (Co-author Ingo Waldmann is a final-year undergraduate project student.) It’s certainly been a long time since an observational astronomical discovery of this magnitude has made from within the London City Limits!

Also in my inbox this morning was an e-mail from Jose Manuel Almenara Villa, who made the definitive initial observation of HD 17156 (and made the initial announcement on the comment section of this weblog). He writes, I know it’s late, but here there are the data from Tenerife. The egress is fully there, fully present. Nice work!

Jose Manuel Almenara Villa Photometry for HD 80606

And then, no more than an hour ago, another dramatic update. In an e-mail to myself and Jean Schneider, Enrique Garcia-Melendo writes:

Dear Greg and Jean,

We observed the transit of HD80606b.

Please find attached the submitted paper to the ApJ. The manuscript will also appear at

Best regards,
Enrique Garcia-Melendo

Title: Unconfirmed Detection of a Transit of HD 80606b
Authors: E. Garcia-Melendo and P. R. McCullough
Categories: astro-ph.EP
Comments: Submitted to ApJ, 11 pages, 4 figures.

We report a times series of B-band photometric observations initiated on the eve of Valentine’s day, February 14, 2009, at the anticipated time of a transit of the extrasolar planet HD 80606b. A transit model favored by the data has minimum light of 0.990 times the nominal brightness of HD 80606. The heliocentric Julian date (HJD) of the model’s minimum light is 2454876.33, which combined with the orbital period P = 111.4277 pm 0.0032 days, longitude of periastron, omega = 300.4977 pm 0.0045 degrees, and time of mid-secondary eclipse HJD 2454424.736 pm 0.003 (Laughlin et al. 2009), refines the eccentricity, e = 0.9337 +0.0012 -0.0004}, and the inclination, i = 89.26 +0.24 -0.04 degrees. The duration of the model transit is 0.47 days, and its four contacts occur at HJD 2454876 plus 0.10, 0.24, 0.42, and 0.57 days. We observed only the last two contacts, not the first two. We obtained “control” time series of HD 80606 on subsequent nights; as expected, the “controls” do not exhibit transit-like features. We caution that 1) the transit has not been confirmed independently [note: no longer true.]; 2) we did not observe the transit’s ingress; 3) consequently, we cannot reliably measure the relative sizes of the planet and its star in a model-independent manner, and 4) hence, the other values derived herein are also model dependent.

Now here’s the kicker — the Garcia-Melendo & McCullough paper was submitted on Feb. 23rd…

Update: I just heard from Shigeru Ida at Tokyo Institute of Technology, who has coordinated a number of photometric campaigns by amateur observers in Japan. It turns out that it was either rainy or totally cloudy on the night of the transit ingress (Feb. 13/14) for all of the observers. Bummer. The following night, the conditions were a little better, allowing several observers to get noisy baseline data.

Categories: worlds Tags: , ,

HD 80606b transit detected

February 25th, 2009 6 comments

I’m very pleased to be able to announce that HD 80606b is a transiting planet!

It looks like priority of discovery goes Claire Moutou and the French and Swiss team, who beat at least one other team to submission by a matter of hours. I’m attaching a draft of the French and Swiss Team’s paper that was just sent to me. Congratulations to Everyone involved!

Here’s the preprint.

Details to follow…

Categories: worlds Tags: ,


February 12th, 2009 3 comments

Image Source: Mearth Live.

Update 4 : Feb. 14 2009, 07:12:00 UT

The first reports are coming in. Gregor Srdoc in Croatia got a lightcurve through most of the night for HD 80606 combined with HD 80607. No sign of a transit, but the data is relatively noisy due to imperfect weather.

Veli-Pekka Hentunen reports that weather conditions in Finland were bad generally, and were specifically bad in Varkaus.

At least four sets of observations from various locations in Arizona are currently underway, including both the 40” and the 1.3m at USNO Flagstaff under the able command of Paul Shankland.

Jonathan Irwin reports that data from Mearth through 5 UT shows no sign of an egress.

Ohio State Grad Student Jason Eastman reports on his remote Demonex observations (from the comments page):

Halfway through the night…

We started observing at UT 02:30 in the V band. No sign of an egress at the ~0.005 mag level.

That link will be updated with the entire night’s data in the morning.

So it’s not looking particularly good for a transit, but I’m really happy that data is coming in. We’ll have a definitive answer sometime tomorrow.

Thanks to everyone who observed. It’s really cool how a planet 190 light years away can bring observers all over the globe into a common mission.

Update 3 : Feb. 13 2009, 23:29:00 UT

We’re now closing in on the moment of inferior conjunction, which hopefully will wind up being the midpoint of a central transit. The current weather in Europe looks like it’s clear for observers in Finland and Northern Italy, so it’s now quite likely that we’ll get a definitive answer from the campaign.

No word yet on whether an ingress was observed, but Jonathan Irwin did send a nice light curve from last night’s baseline run with Mearth. He writes:

Here’s our entire night of data (about 11 hours) from one telescope, using 80607 as the comparison star. Raw and binned x12 (about 5 minutes per bin). We are getting rms scatter of about 1.6 times Poisson with this fairly quick reduction.

There is usually a slight offset when the target crosses the meridian (data point 777) due to flat-fielding error, that I have not removed in this – over the ~20 arcsec separation of the pair it’s pretty small. There is also a bit of a blip there as my guide loop recovers its lock after crossing – still needs a little tuning :)

Fingers crossed for tonight!

Update: Clear Skies in Arizona. Dave Charbonneau writes:

Clear skies. You can even watch the images in real time, and see how many
MEarth scopes are on ‘606…

Update 2 : Feb. 13 2009, 17:04:00 UT

It’s now the middle of the night in the Far East, and the transit window has opened. The weather in Japan looks a little spotty, but Southern China is in the clear.

Observers in Arizona reported good weather last night, but the forecast is a little iffy for tonight.

In addition, I just got an e-mail (UT 17:48) from Gregor Srdoc in Croatia, who is on the sky under quite good conditions just after nightfall…

Update 1 : Feb. 13 2009, 06:03:03 UT

There’s about a half-day left until the possible start of the ingress. On the map above, I’ve marked the locations of confirmed observers with small red dots. HD 80606b is 190 light years above the spot labeled with the orange circle.

Observers in the US are currently taking data of both HD 80606 and its binary companion, HD 80607. It’s always good to have an out-of-transit baseline photometric time series.

Dave Charbonneau checked in with a status report:

MEarth is ready. You can watch us in real time at

If the roof is closed, it is cloudy.

The up-to-the-minute stop-action animations showing the disconcertingly reptilian movements of the telescopes are completely mesmerizing. Mearth (pronounced “mirth”) is located at the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory on Mt. Hopkins in Arizona, and spends most of its nights searching for potentially habitable terrestrial planets transiting nearby M dwarfs. The telescopes have a list of ~2000 nearby red dwarf stars. Each star is subjected to repeated visits of ~30-45 minute duration. The idea is to catch transiting planets in progress and to broadcast the information to larger telescopes that can obtain immediate real-time photometric confirmation of a discovery. (For a more detailed overview of Mearth, see Irwin, Charbonneau, Nutzmann & Falco 2008.)

Update 0 : Feb. 12 2009, 22:47:40 UT

I’ll be posting updates on the global HD 80606b transit campaign as I get them, with newer updates going to the top of this post.

A number of observers have indicated that they’ll be on the sky. Right now, it looks like telescopes are confirmed for Finland, Israel, Italy, Japan and the US. Given the vagaries of the weather, however, it would be great if we can get as much coverage as possible. As Vince Lombardi would have put it, “We’re looking at 15%, so if you can get 1%, get out there and give 110%!”

Everyone is encouraged to comment as the campaign progresses (click the number next to the post title to access the discussion page). I’ve lifted the restriction that only allows registered oklo users to comment, but all comments are now held for moderation, in order to keep the Viagra contingent off the air.