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ready set…

February 12th, 2009 Comments off

Even as I write, HD 80606b is closing in fast on its inferior conjunction. It’s basically a roll of a die, a roughly one in 6 chance, that the orbital alignment is good enough for a primary transit to be observable. (The odds are boosted from the a-priori geometric probability of 11% to ~15% by the fact that the secondary transit was fully consistent with an uninclined passage directly behind the star.)

Here’s the situation:

A central transit will last roughly 16 hours, with the ingress best suited for observers in the Far East, and the egress best suited for observers in North America. Europe is the place to be for transits that are closer to grazing. HD 80606 itself is favorably sited in Ursa Majoris, and is at low air mass for basically the entire night, especially at higher latitudes.

Good luck to everyone who’ll be observing!

What’s your angle?

February 8th, 2009 Comments off

P. Diddy flossing his '606 pose.
Happy ‘606 day!

HD 80606b swung through periastron at about 01:40 UT this morning (Feb. 8, 2009) and will spend the balance of the week spinning out toward inferior conjunction, which will occur at 00:50 UT on Valentine’s day (Feb. 14th).

Proposals for GO-6, the first general observing cycle of the forthcoming Spitzer Warm Mission, were due on Friday. Jonathan and Drake and I worked right down to the 5 PM PST wire, polishing our request to complement the Nov. 2007 8-micron periastron observations with a pair of additional photometric time series at 4.5 microns (Warm Spitzer’s longest IR wavelength). Two HD 80606b events are observable during GO-6; the first at the very start of the warm mission on May 30, 2009, and the second on Jan 08, 2010. We’re keen to watch the planet ring down from its maximum brightness, so we’ve proposed for a window that runs from 10 hours before periastron to 30 hours after periastron. In the 4.5 micron bandpass, we’re predicting a maximum planet-to-star flux ratio of a bit more than one part in a thousand — easily within Spitzer’s sensitivity.

Here’s a diagram showing the portion of the orbit that we’re proposing to observe. Even though the orbital period is 111.43 days, our forty-hour proposed observation encompasses more than 200 degrees of true anomaly. A planet with e=0.932 is quite truly anomalous.

In the near term, though, I’m very eager to see what shows up in my inbox on Valentine’s day, when observers across the Northern Hemisphere will be monitoring HD 80606 to ascertain whether a primary transit for the planet can be observed.

Here’s the geometric situation. If HD 80606’s orbit were inclined only negligibly to the sky plane, then Earth’s view of the system would be a simple reflection of the standard diagram. At inferior conjunction, six days after periastron, the planet is heading away from the star and slightly toward Earth:

The occurrence of the secondary transit tells us, however, that the orbital inclination relative to the sky plane is in reality close to 90 degrees. Using the Illustrator scale tool to compress along the north-south direction, we can see the result of increasing the inclination.


“Sooner can a camel thread the eye of a needle…”

Categories: worlds Tags: , , ,

The Big Swing

January 29th, 2009 3 comments

Image from computer modeling by J. Langton and D. Kasen.

HD 80606b — everyone’s second-favorite planet — is in the news! Our article describing the Spitzer Space Telescope’s 8-micron observations of the planet’s periastron passage made the cover of this week’s issue of Nature, and JPL has issued a press release on the results.

The planet has been a long-running topic here at oklo.org, with the storyline developing over a series of posts during the past few years. A incomplete list might include:

Post one (older), two, three, four, five, though six (newer).

The outsize eccentricity of HD 80606b’s orbit leads to very brief, very intense encounters every 111.4 days as the planet swings through periastron. On the Nov. 20, 2007 encounter, we used Spitzer to monitor the 8-micron emission of the star and planet for a thirty hour period. The observations spanned the time leading up to superior conjunction and periastron, and continued for several hours thereafter:

The resulting time series looks like this:

The most remarkable feature of the light curve is the dip at time 2454424.72. The alignment of the planetary orbit turns out to be close enough to edge-on that a secondary eclipse occurs. The a-priori chance of observing the eclipse was only about 15%, and so we were lucky. Our interpretation of the light curve is that we’re seeing the planet heat up rapidly, from a temperature of roughly 800K to a temperature of about 1500K over a time period lasting roughly five or six hours. This indicates that the starlight is being absorbed at quite a high level in the atmosphere, where the air is thin and the heat capacity is low.

The details are all in the Nature paper. I’ll be posting it on astro-ph shortly, but in the meantime, a .pdf draft of the article is here, along with the (quite extensive) supplemental information section, and the figures (one and two) from the article.

The information that comes directly from Spitzer amounts to a 30-hour, one-pixel grayscale movie of a storm that was brewing on the planet back in the Monroe Administration. Hydrodynamical modeling, however, can flesh out the details, and the goal over the coming years will be to compute simulations that are as detailed and as physically correct as possible. In the next post, I’ll go into more detail, but here’s an advance look at the results of a “synthetic mission” in which a probe has been inserted into orbit around the planet 2.2 days prior to periastron. The resulting footage runs through 8.9 days after periastron. The orbital dynamics and the illumination are all self-consistent…

Footage from a synthetic probe.

Coming soon…

January 27th, 2009 1 comment


Download the poster-size version (4.4MB).