Radial Velocities as an Exoplanet Discovery Method [EPA]


The precise radial velocity technique is a cornerstone of exoplanetary astronomy. Astronomers measure Doppler shifts in the star’s spectral features, which track the line-of/sight gravitational accelerations of a star caused by the planets orbiting it. The method has its roots in binary star astronomy, and exoplanet detection represents the low-companion-mass limit of that application. This limit requires control of several effects of much greater magnitude than the signal sought: the motion of the telescope must be subtracted, the instrument must be calibrated, and spurious Doppler shifts “jitter” must be mitigated or corrected. Two primary forms of instrumental calibration are the stable spectrograph and absorption cell methods, the former being the path taken for the next generation of spectrographs. Spurious, apparent Doppler shifts due to non-center-of-mass motion (jitter) can be the result of stellar magnetic activity or photospheric motions and granulation. Several avoidance, mitigation, and correction strategies exist, including careful analysis of line shapes and radial velocity wavelength dependence.

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J. Wright
Wed, 26 Jul 17

Comments: Invited review chapter. 13pp

Centroid vetting of transiting planet candidates from the Next Generation Transit Survey [EPA]


The Next Generation Transit Survey (NGTS), operating in Paranal since 2016, is a wide-field survey to detect Neptunes and super-Earths transiting bright stars, which are suitable for precise radial velocity follow-up and characterisation. Thereby, its sub-mmag photometric precision and ability to identify false positives are crucial. Particularly, variable background objects blended in the photometric aperture frequently mimic Neptune-sized transits and are costly in follow-up time. These objects can best be identified with the centroiding technique: if the photometric flux is lost off-centre during an eclipse, the flux centroid shifts towards the centre of the target star. Although this method has successfully been employed by the Kepler mission, it has previously not been implemented from the ground. We present a fully-automated centroid vetting algorithm developed for NGTS, enabled by our high-precision auto-guiding. Our method allows detecting centroid shifts with an average precision of 0.75 milli-pixel, and down to 0.25 milli-pixel for specific targets, for a pixel size of 4.97 arcsec. The algorithm is now part of the NGTS candidate vetting pipeline and automatically employed for all detected signals. Further, we develop a joint Bayesian fitting model for all photometric and centroid data, allowing to disentangle which object (target or background) is causing the signal, and what its astrophysical parameters are. We demonstrate our method on two NGTS objects of interest. These achievements make NGTS the first ground-based wide-field transit survey ever to successfully apply the centroiding technique for automated candidate vetting, enabling the production of a robust candidate list before follow-up.

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M. Gunther, D. Queloz, E. Gillen, et. al.
Wed, 26 Jul 17

Comments: Accepted for publication in MNRAS 29 Jul 2017. 15 pages, 15 figures, 3 tables. This is the authors’ version of the manuscript

Hydrodynamics of embedded planets' first atmospheres – III. The role of radiation transport for super-Earth planets [EPA]


The population of close-in super-Earths, with gas mass fractions of up to 10% represents a challenge for planet formation theory: how did they avoid runaway gas accretion and collapsing to hot Jupiters despite their core masses being in the critical range of $M_\mathrm{c} \simeq 10 M_\mathrm{\oplus}$? Previous three-dimensional (3D) hydrodynamical simulations indicate that atmospheres of low-mass planets cannot be considered isolated from the protoplanetary disc, contrary to what is assumed in 1D-evolutionary calculations. This finding is referred to as the recycling hypothesis. In this Paper we investigate the recycling hypothesis for super-Earth planets, accounting for realistic 3D radiation hydrodynamics. Also, we conduct a direct comparison in terms of the evolution of the entropy between 1D and 3D geometries. We clearly see that 3D atmospheres maintain higher entropy: although gas in the atmosphere loses entropy through radiative cooling, the advection of high entropy gas from the disc into the Bondi/Hill sphere slows down Kelvin-Helmholtz contraction, potentially arresting envelope growth at a sub-critical gas mass fraction. Recycling, therefore, operates vigorously, in line with results by previous studies. However, we also identify an “inner core” — in size $\approx$ 25% of the Bondi radius — where streamlines are more circular and entropies are much lower than in the outer atmosphere. Future studies at higher resolutions are needed to assess whether this region can become hydrodynamically-isolated on long time-scales.

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N. Cimerman, R. Kuiper and C. Ormel
Wed, 26 Jul 17

Comments: 16 pages, 12 figures, accepted for publication at MNRAS

Stationary waves and slowly moving features in the night upper clouds of Venus [EPA]


At the cloud top level of Venus (65-70 km altitude) the atmosphere rotates 60 times faster than the underlying surface, a phenomenon known as superrotation. Whereas on Venus’s dayside the cloud top motions are well determined and Venus general circulation models predict a mean zonal flow at the upper clouds similar on both day and nightside, the nightside circulation remains poorly studied except for the polar region. Here we report global measurements of the nightside circulation at the upper cloud level. We tracked individual features in thermal emission images at 3.8 and 5.0 $\mathrm{\mu m}$ obtained between 2006 and 2008 by the Visible and Infrared Thermal Imaging Spectrometer (VIRTIS-M) onboard Venus Express and in 2015 by ground-based measurements with the Medium-Resolution 0.8-5.5 Micron Spectrograph and Imager (SpeX) at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Infrared Telescope Facility (NASA/IRTF). The zonal motions range from -110 to -60 m s$^{-1}$, consistent with those found for the dayside but with larger dispersion. Slow motions (-50 to -20 m s$^{-1}$) were also found and remain unexplained. In addition, abundant stationary wave patterns with zonal speeds from -10 to +10 m s$^{-1}$ dominate the night upper clouds and concentrate over the regions of higher surface elevation.

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J. Peralta, R. Hueso, A. Sanchez-Lavega, et. al.
Wed, 26 Jul 17

Comments: 15 pages, 4 figures, 6 supplementary figures

Statistical-likelihood Exo-Planetary Habitability Index (SEPHI) [EPA]


A new Statistical-likelihood Exo-Planetary Habitability Index (SEPHI) is presented. It has been developed to cover the current and future features required for a classification scheme disentangling whether any discovered exoplanet is potentially habitable compared with life on Earth. The SEPHI uses likelihood functions to estimate the habitability potential. It is defined as the geometric mean of four sub-indexes related with four comparison criteria: Is the planet telluric?; Does it have an atmosphere dense enough and a gravity compatible with life?; Does it have liquid water on its surface?; Does it have a magnetic field shielding its surface from harmful radiation and stellar winds?. Only with seven physical characteristics, can the SEPHI be estimated: Planetary mass, radius, and orbital period; stellar mass, radius, and effective temperature; planetary system age. We have applied the SEPHI to all the planets in the Exoplanet Encyclopaedia using a Monte Carlo Method. Kepler-1229 b, Kepler-186 f, and Kepler-442 b have the largest SEPHI values assuming certain physical descriptions. Kepler-1229 b is the most unexpected planet in this privileged position since no previous study pointed to this planet as a potentially interesting and habitable one. In addition, most of the tidally locked Earth-like planets present a weak magnetic field, incompatible with habitability potential. We must stress that our results are linked to the physics used in this study. Any change in the physics used only implies an updating of the likelihood functions. We have developed a web application allowing the on-line estimation of the SEPHI: this http URL

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J. Mozos and A. Moya
Wed, 26 Jul 17

Comments: 10 pages, 4 figures, 6 tables. Accepted for publication in MNRAS

The spatial distribution of carbon dust in the early solar nebula and the carbon content of planetesimals [EPA]


A high fraction of carbon bound in solid carbonaceous material is observed to exist in bodies formed in the cold outskirts of the solar nebula, while bodies in the terrestrial planets region contain nearly none. We study the fate of the carbonaceous material during the spiral-in of matter as the sun accretes matter from the solar nebula. From observational data on the composition of the dust component in comets and interplanetary dust particles, and from data on pyrolysis experiments, we construct a model for the composition of the pristine carbonaceous material in the outer parts of the solar nebula. We study the pyrolysis of the refractory and volatile organic component and the concomitant release of high-molecular-weight hydrocarbons under quiescent conditions of disk evolution where matter migrates inwards. We also study the decomposition and oxidation of the carbonaceous material during violent flash heating events, which are thought to be responsible for the formation of chondrules. It is found that the complex hydrocarbon components are removed from the solid disk matter at temperatures between 250 and 400 K, while the amorphous carbon component survives up to 1200 K. Without efficient carbon destruction during flash-heating associated with chondrule formation the carbon abundance of terrestrial planets, except for Mercury, would be not as low as it is found in cosmochemical studies. Chondrule formation seems to be a process that is crucial for the carbon-poor composition of the material of terrestrial planets.

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H. Gail and M. Trieloff
Tue, 25 Jul 17

Comments: 17 pages, 7 figures, accepted by Astronomy & Astrophysics

Exomoon Habitability and Tidal Evolution in Low-Mass Star Systems [EPA]


Discoveries of extrasolar planets in the habitable zone (HZ) of their parent star lead to questions about the habitability of massive moons orbiting planets in the HZ. Around low-mass stars, the HZ is much closer to the star than for Sun-like stars. For a planet-moon binary in such a HZ, the proximity of the star forces a close orbit for the moon to remain gravitationally bound to the planet. Under these conditions the effects of tidal heating, distortion torques, and stellar perturbations become important considerations for exomoon habitability.
Utilizing a model that considers both dynamical and tidal interactions simultaneously, we performed a computational investigation into exomoon evolution for systems in the HZ of low-mass stars ($\lesssim 0.6\ M_{\odot}$). We show that dwarf stars with masses $\lesssim 0.2\ M_{\odot}$ cannot host habitable exomoons within the stellar HZ due to extreme tidal heating in the moon. Perturbations from a central star may continue to have deleterious effects in the HZ up to $\approx 0.5\ M_{\odot}$, depending on the host planet’s mass and its location in the HZ, amongst others. In addition to heating concerns, torques due to tidal and spin distortion can lead to the relatively rapid inward spiraling of a moon. Therefore, moons of giant planets in HZs around the most abundant type of star are unlikely to have habitable surfaces. In cases with lower intensity tidal heating the stellar perturbations may have a positive influence on exomoon habitability by promoting long-term heating and possibly extending the HZ for exomoons.

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R. Zollinger, J. Armstrong and R. Heller
Tue, 25 Jul 17

Comments: accepted by MNRAS, 20 pages, 8 figures in main text (7 col, 1 b/w)