Monday, March 31, 2014

The Recipe to Make Terrestrial Exoplanets Earth-like Habitable

Earth-like Habitats in Planetary Systems


Fritz et al


Understanding the concept of habitability is clearly related to an evolutionary knowledge of the particular planet-in-question. However, additional indications so-called “systemic aspects” of the planetary system as a whole governs a particular planet's claim on habitability. In this paper we focus on such systemic aspects and discuss their relevance to the formation of an “Earth-like” habitable planet. This contribution summarizes our results obtained by lunar sample work and numerical models within the framework of the Research Alliance “Planetary Evolution and Life”. We consider various scenarios which simulate the dynamical evolution of the Solar System and discuss the consequences for the likelihood of forming an Earth-like world orbiting another star. Our model approach is constrained by observations of the modern Solar System and the knowledge of its history. Results suggest that on the one hand the long-term presence of terrestrial planets is jeopardized due to gravitational interactions if giant planets are present. On the other hand the habitability of inner rocky planets may be supported in those planetary systems hosting giant planets.

Gravitational interactions within a complex multiple-body structure including giant planets may supply terrestrial planets with materials which formed in the colder region of the proto-planetary disk. During these processes, water, the prime requisite for habitability, is delivered to the inner system. This may occur either during the main accretion phase of terrestrial planets or via impacts during a post-accretion bombardment. Results for both processes are summarized and discussed with reference to the lunar crater record.

Starting from a scenario involving migration of the giant planets this contribution discusses the delivery of water to Earth, the modification of atmospheres by impacts in a planetary system context and the likelihood of the existence of extrasolar Earth-like habitable worlds.

Habitable Worlds Around F Class Stars

Habitability around F-type stars


Sato et al


We explore the general astrobiological significance of F-type main-sequence stars with masses between 1.2 and 1.5 M ⊙. Special consideration is given to stellar evolutionary aspects due to nuclear main-sequence evolution. DNA is taken as a proxy for carbon-based macromolecules following the paradigm that extraterrestrial biology may be most likely based on hydrocarbons. Consequently, the DNA action spectrum is utilized to represent the impact of the stellar ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Planetary atmospheric attenuation is taken into account based on parameterized attenuation functions. We found that the damage inflicted on DNA for planets at Earth-equivalent positions is between a factor of 2.5 and 7.1 higher than for solar-like stars, and there are intricate relations for the time-dependence of damage during stellar main-sequence evolution. If attenuation is considered, smaller factors of damage are obtained in alignment to the attenuation parameters. This work is motivated by earlier studies indicating that the UV environment of solar-type stars is one of the most decisive factors in determining the suitability of exosolar planets and exomoons for biological evolution and sustainability.

SuperEarth HD 40307g's Habitability Studied

A dynamical study on the habitability of terrestrial exoplanets II: The super Earth HD 40307 g


Brasser et al


HARPS and it Kepler results indicate that half of solar-type stars host planets with periods P less than 100 d and masses M less than 30 M_E. These super Earth systems are compact and dynamically cold. Here we investigate the stability of the super Earth system around the K-dwarf HD40307. It could host up to six planets, with one in the habitable zone. We analyse the system's stability using numerical simulations from initial conditions within the observational uncertainties. The most stable solution deviates 3.1 sigma from the published value, with planets e and f not in resonance and planets b and c apsidally aligned. We study the habitability of the outer planet through the yearly-averaged insolation and black-body temperature at the pole. Both undergo large variations because of its high eccentricity and are much more intense than on Earth. The insolation variations are precession dominated with periods of 40 kyr and 102 kyr for precession and obliquity if the rotation period is 3 d. A rotation period of about 1.5 d could cause extreme obliquity variations because of capture in a Cassini state. For faster rotation rates the periods converge to 10 kyr and 20 kyr. The large uncertainty in the precession period does not change the overall outcome.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Evolution of Protoplanetary Disks Through Time

Time evolution of a viscous protoplanetary disk with a free geometry: toward a more self-consistent picture


Baillié et al


Observations of protoplanetary disks show that some characteristics seem recurrent, even in star formation regions that are physically distant such as surface mass density profiles varying as r−1, or aspect ratios about 0.03 to 0.23. Accretion rates are also recurrently found around 10−8−10−6 M⊙ yr−1 for disks already evolved (Isella et al., 2009, Andrews et al., 2009, 2010). Several models have been developed in order to recover these properties. However, most of them usually simplify the disk geometry if not its mid-plane temperature. This has major consequences for modeling the disk evolution over million years and consequently planet migration. In the present paper, we develop a viscous evolution hydrodynamical numerical code that determines simultaneously the disk photosphere geometry and the mid-plane temperature. We then compare our results of long-term simulations with similar simulations of disks with a constrained geometry along the Chiang & Goldreich (1997) prescription (dlnH/dlnr = 9/7). We find that the constrained geometry models provide a good approximation of the disk surface density evolution. However, they differ significantly regarding the temperature time evolution. In addition, we find that shadowed regions naturally appear at the transition between viscously dominated and radiation dominated regions that falls in the region of planetary formation. We show that χ (photosphere height to pressure scale height ratio) cannot be considered as a constant, consistently with Watanabe et al. (2008). Comparisons with observations show that all disk naturally evolve toward a shallow surface density disk (Σ∝r−1). The mass flux across the disk stabilizes in about 1 million year typically.

Observing the Structure of HD 135344B's Circumstellar Disk

Constraining the structure of the transition disk HD 135344B (SAO 206462) by simultaneous modeling of multi-wavelength gas and dust observations


Carmona et al


HD 135344B is an accreting (pre-) transition disk which displays emission of warm CO extending tens of AU inside its 30 AU dust cavity. We employ the dust radiative transfer code MCFOST and the thermo-chemical code ProDiMo to derive the disk structure from the simultaneous modeling of the spectral energy distribution (SED), VLT/CRIRES CO P(10) 4.75 micron, Herschel/PACS [O I] 63 micron, Spitzer-IRS, and JCMT 12CO J=3-2 spectra, VLTI/PIONIER H-band visibilities, and constraints from (sub-)mm continuum interferometry and near-IR imaging. We found a disk model able to describe simultaneously the current observations. This disk has the following structure: (1) to reproduce the SED, the near-IR interferometry data, and the CO ro-vibrational emission, refractory grains (we suggest carbon) are present inside the silicate sublimation radius (0.08 less than R less than 0.2 AU); (2) the dust cavity (R less than 30 AU) is filled with gas, the surface density of this gas must increase with radius to fit the CO P(10) line profile, a small gap of a few AU in the gas is compatible with current data, a large gap in the gas is not likely; (4) the gas/dust ratio inside the cavity is greater than 100 to account for the 870 micron continuum upper limit and the CO P(10) line flux; (5) the gas/dust ratio at 30 less than R less than 200 AU is less than 10 to simultaneously describe the [O I] 63 micron line flux and the CO P(10) line profile; (6) in the outer disk most of the mass should be located in the mid-plane and a significant fraction of the dust is in large grains. Conclusions: Simultaneous modeling of the gas and dust it is required to break the model degeneracies and constrain the disk structure. An increasing gas surface density with radius in the inner dust cavity echoes the effect of a migrating jovian planet. The global low gas mass (a few MJupiter) in the HD 135344B's disk suggests that it is an evolved disk that has already lost a large fraction of its mass.

Study Suggests F Class Stars are Good Candidates for Habitable Worlds

Scientists searching for habitable planets beyond Earth shouldn't overlook F-type stars in favor of their more abundant, smaller and cooler cousins, according to new research from University of Texas at Arlington physicists.

Stars fall into seven lettered categories according to their surface temperature, but they also differ in other factors such as mass, luminosity and abundance in the universe. Scientists looking for habitable planets typically have focused on the less massive end of the spectrum, where our own G-type sun as well as the even less massive K and M-type stars reside.

F-types are the in the middle of the scale, more massive and hotter than our Sun. Their increased ultraviolet radiation has been thought to be a limiting factor for sustaining life. In addition, there just aren't as many of them.

But, UT Arlington Physics Professor Manfred Cuntz, contends: "F-type stars are not hopeless."

Cuntz said: "There is a gap in attention from the scientific community when it comes to knowledge about F-type stars, and that is what our research is working to fill. It appears they may indeed be a good place to look for habitable planets."

Cuntz and UT Arlington Ph.D. student Satoko Sato teamed with researchers from the University of Guanajuato in Mexico for a new work published this week by the International Journal of Astrobiology. They argue that since F-type stars have a wider habitability zone – the area where conditions are right for general Earth-type planets to develop and sustain life – they warrant additional consideration.

paper tomorrow.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Using Stellar Flicker to Characterize Exoplanets

Flicker as a tool for characterizing planets through Asterodensity Profiling


Kipping et al


Variability in the time series brightness of a star on a timescale of 8 hours, known as 'flicker', has been previously demonstrated to serve as a proxy for the surface gravity of a star by Bastien et al. (2013). Although surface gravity is crucial for stellar classification, it is the mean stellar density which is most useful when studying transiting exoplanets, due to its direct impact on the transit light curve shape. Indeed, an accurate and independent measure of the stellar density can be leveraged to infer subtle properties of a transiting system, such as the companion's orbital eccentricity via asterodensity profiling. We here calibrate flicker to the mean stellar density of 439 Kepler targets with asteroseismology, allowing us to derive a new empirical relation given by log10(ρ⋆[kgm−3])=5.413−1.850log10(F8[ppm]). The calibration is valid for stars with 4500K less than Teff less than 6500K, Kp less than 14 and flicker estimates corresponding to stars with 3.25 less than log g* less than 4.43. Our relation has a model error in the stellar density of 31.7% and so has ∼8 times lower precision than that from asteroseismology but is applicable to a sample ∼40 times greater. Flicker therefore provides an empirical method to enable asterodensity profiling on hundreds of planetary candidates from present and future missions.

Three Different Models of What Fomalhaut b Might be

Fomalhaut b as a Cloud of Dust: Testing Aspects of Planet Formation Theory


Kenyon et al


We consider the ability of three models - impacts, captures, and collisional cascades - to account for a bright cloud of dust in Fomalhaut b. Our analysis is based on a novel approach to the power-law size distribution of solid particles central to each model. When impacts produce debris with (i) little material in the largest remnant and (ii) a steep size distribution, the debris has enough cross-sectional area to match observations of Fomalhaut b. However, published numerical experiments of impacts between 100 km objects suggest this outcome is unlikely. If collisional processes maintain a steep size distribution over a broad range of particle sizes (300 microns to 10 km), Earth-mass planets can capture enough material over 1-100 Myr to produce a detectable cloud of dust. Otherwise, capture fails. When young planets are surrounded by massive clouds or disks of satellites, a collisional cascade is the simplest mechanism for dust production in Fomalhaut b. Several tests using HST or JWST data - including measuring the expansion/elongation of Fomalhaut b, looking for trails of small particles along Fomalhaut b's orbit, and obtaining low resolution spectroscopy - can discriminate among these models.

How Grain Opacity Influences the Composition of Extrasolar Planets


Mordasini et al


The opacity due to grains in the envelope of a protoplanet regulates the accretion rate of gas during formation, thus the final bulk composition of planets with primordial H/He is a function of it. Observationally, for exoplanets with known mass and radius it is possible to estimate the bulk composition via internal structure models. We first determine the reduction factor of the ISM grain opacity f_opa that leads to gas accretion rates consistent with grain evolution models. We then compare the bulk composition of synthetic low-mass and giant planets at different f_opa with observations. For f_opa=1 (full ISM opacity) the synthetic low-mass planets have too small radii, i.e., too low envelope masses compared to observations. At f_opa=0.003, the value calibrated with the grain evolution models, synthetic and actual planets occupy similar mass-radius loci. The mean enrichment of giant planets relative to the host star as a function of planet mass M can be approximated as Z_p/Z_star = beta*(M/M_Jup)^alpha. We find alpha=-0.7 independent of f_opa in synthetic populations in agreement with the observational result (-0.71+-0.10). The absolute enrichment level decreases from beta=8.5 at f_opa=1 to 3.5 at f_opa=0. At f_opa=0.003 one finds beta=7.2 which is similar to the observational result (6.3+-1.0). We thus find observational hints that the opacity in protoplanetary atmospheres is much smaller than in the ISM even if the specific value of the grain opacity cannot be constrained here. The result for the enrichment of giant planets helps to distinguish core accretion and gravitational instability. In the simplest picture of core accretion where first a critical core forms and afterwards only gas is added, alpha=-1. If a core accretes all planetesimals inside the feeding zone, alpha=-2/3. The observational result lies between these values, pointing to core accretion as the formation mechanism.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Upper Limits for Effects of Differential Irradiation and Circulation on Gas Giant Thermal Enviroment



Rauscher et al


As a planet ages, it cools and its radius shrinks at a rate set by the efficiency with which heat is transported from the interior out to space. The bottleneck for this transport is at the boundary between the convective interior and the radiative atmosphere; the opacity there sets the global cooling rate. Models of planetary evolution are often one dimensional (1D), such that the radiative-convective boundary (RCB) is defined by a single temperature, pressure, and opacity. In reality the spatially inhomogeneous stellar heating pattern and circulation in the atmosphere could deform the RCB, allowing heat from the interior to escape more efficiently through regions with lower opacity. We present an analysis of the degree to which the RCB could be deformed and the resultant change in the evolutionary cooling rate. In this initial work we calculate the upper limit for this effect by comparing an atmospheric structure in local radiative equilibrium to its 1D equivalent. We find that the cooling through an uneven RCB could be enhanced over cooling through a uniform RCB by as much as 10%-50%. We also show that the deformation of the RCB (and the enhancement of the cooling rate) increases with a greater incident stellar flux or a lower inner entropy. Our results indicate that this mechanism could significantly change a planet's thermal evolution, causing it to cool and shrink more quickly than would otherwise be expected. This may exacerbate the well-known difficulty in explaining the very large radii observed for some hot Jupiters.

Fast Rotating Stars eat Their Short Period Exoplanets

Why is there a Dearth of Close-In Planets around Fast-Rotating stars?


Teitler et al


We propose that the reported dearth of Kepler Objects of Interest (KOIs) with orbital periods Porb≲2−3days around stars with rotation periods Prot≲5−10days can be attributed to tidal ingestion of close-in planets by their host stars. We show that the planet distribution in this region of the logPorb−logProt plane is qualitatively reproduced with a model that incorporates tidal interaction and magnetic braking as well as the dependence on the stellar core--envelope coupling timescale. We demonstrate the consistency of this scenario with the inferred break in the Porb distribution of close-in KOIs and point out a potentially testable prediction of this interpretation.

YETI Network Finds Three Ultra Short Period Exoplanet Candidates in Trumpler 37 & 25 Ori

The search for transiting planets using the YETI network


Errmann et al


To search for young transiting planets in continuous light curves, we monitor young open clusters (2-200 Myr) with the YETI network. Here we report the first transiting candidates (two in Trumpler 37, one in 25 Ori). Follow-up observations of the candidates are partly done.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Earth-Similar Geological Cycles Needed for Planetary Habitability

Sulphide oxidation and carbonate dissolution as a source of CO2 over geological timescales


Torres et al


The observed stability of Earth’s climate over millions of years is thought to depend on the rate of carbon dioxide (CO2) release from the solid Earth being balanced by the rate of CO2 consumption by silicate weathering. During the Cenozoic era, spanning approximately the past 66 million years, the concurrent increases in the marine isotopic ratios of strontium, osmium and lithium suggest that extensive uplift of mountain ranges may have stimulated CO2 consumption by silicate weathering but reconstructions of sea-floor spreading do not indicate a corresponding increase in CO2 inputs from volcanic degassing. The resulting imbalance would have depleted the atmosphere of all CO2 within a few million years. As a result, reconciling Cenozoic isotopic records with the need for mass balance in the long-term carbon cycle has been a major and unresolved challenge in geochemistry and Earth history. Here we show that enhanced sulphide oxidation coupled to carbonate dissolution can provide a transient source of CO2 to Earth’s atmosphere that is relevant over geological timescales. Like drawdown by means of silicate weathering, this source is probably enhanced by tectonic uplift, and so may have contributed to the relative stability of the partial pressure of atmospheric CO2 during the Cenozoic. A variety of other hypotheses have been put forward to explain the ‘Cenozoic isotope-weathering paradox’, and the evolution of the carbon cycle probably depended on multiple processes. However, an important role for sulphide oxidation coupled to carbonate dissolution is consistent with records of radiogenic isotopes, atmospheric CO2 partial pressure and the evolution of the Cenozoic sulphur cycle, and could be accounted for by geologically reasonable changes in the global dioxygen cycle, suggesting that this CO2 source should be considered a potentially important but as yet generally unrecognized component of the long-term carbon cycle.

The Effects of Exoplanets Forming Past the Snowline on Habitable Zone Terrestrial Exoplanets

The Effect of Planets Beyond the Ice Line on the Accretion of Volatiles by Habitable-Zone Rocky Planets


Quintana et al


Models of planet formation have shown that giant planets have a large impact on the number, masses and orbits of terrestrial planets that form. In addition, they play an important role in delivering volatiles from material that formed exterior to the snow-line (the region in the disk beyond which water ice can condense) to the inner region of the disk where terrestrial planets can maintain liquid water on their surfaces. We present simulations of the late stages of terrestrial planet formation from a disk of protoplanets around a solar-type star, and we include a massive planet (from 1 Earth mass to 1 Jupiter mass) in Jupiter's orbit at ~5.2 AU in all but one set of simulations. Two initial disk models are examined with the same mass distribution and total initial water content, but with different distributions of water content. We compare the accretion rates and final water mass fraction of the planets that form. Remarkably, all of the planets that formed in our simulations without giant planets were water-rich, showing that giant planet companions are not required to deliver volatiles to terrestrial planets in the habitable zone. In contrast, an outer planet at least several times the mass of Earth may be needed to clear distant regions from debris truncating the epoch of frequent large impacts. Observations of exoplanets from radial velocity surveys suggest that outer Jupiter-like planets may be scarce, therefore the results presented here suggest the number of habitable planets that reside in our galaxy may be more than previously thought.

Exomoons 10x Gandymede Mass and .86 Earth Radius can be Detected Within Kepler Data

Detecting extrasolar moons akin to Solar System satellites with an Orbital Sampling Effect




Despite years of high accuracy observations, none of the available theoretical techniques has yet allowed the confirmation of a moon beyond the Solar System. Methods are currently limited to masses about an order of magnitude higher than the mass of any moon in the Solar System. I here present a new method sensitive to exomoons similar to the known moons. Due to the projection of transiting exomoon orbits onto the celestial plane, satellites appear more often at larger separations from their planet. After about a dozen randomly sampled observations, a photometric orbital sampling effect (OSE) starts to appear in the phase-folded transit light curve, indicative of the moons' radii and planetary distances. Two additional outcomes of the OSE emerge in the planet's transit timing variations (TTV-OSE) and transit duration variations (TDV-OSE), both of which permit measurements of a moon's mass. The OSE is the first effect that permits characterization of multi-satellite systems. I derive and apply analytical OSE descriptions to simulated transit observations of the Kepler space telescope assuming white noise only. Moons as small as Ganymede may be detectable in the available data, with M stars being their most promising hosts. Exomoons with the 10-fold mass of Ganymede and a similar composition (about 0.86 Earth radii in radius) can most likely be found in the available Kepler data of K stars, including moons in the stellar habitable zone. A future survey with Kepler-class photometry, such as Plato 2.0, and a permanent monitoring of a single field of view over 5 years or more will very likely discover extrasolar moons via their OSEs.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Refined Characteristics of hot Jupiter WASP-11b/HAT-P-10b



Wang et al


The transiting exoplanetary system WASP-11/HAT-P-10 was observed using the CCD camera at Yunnan Observatories, China from 2008 to 2011, and four new transit light curves were obtained. Combined with published radial velocity measurements, the new transit light curves are analyzed along with available photometric data from the literature using the Markov Chain Monte Carlo technique, and the refined physical parameters of the system are derived, which are compatible with the results of two discovery groups, respectively. The planet mass is Mp = 0.526 ± 0.019 MJ , which is the same as West et al.'s value, and more accurately, the planet radius Rp = 0.999$^{+0.029}_{-0.018} \,R_J$ is identical to the value of Bakos et al. The new result confirms that the planet orbit is circular. By collecting 19 available mid-transit epochs with higher precision, we make an orbital period analysis for WASP-11b/HAT-P-10b, and derive a new value for its orbital period, P = 3.72247669 days. Through an (O – C) study based on these mid-transit epochs, no obvious transit timing variation signal can be found for this system during 2008-2012.

The Dynamical Evolution of WASP-13b and WASP-32b

A Window on Exoplanet Dynamical Histories: Rossiter-McLaughlin Observations of WASP-13b and WASP-32b

Brothwell et al


We present Rossiter-McLaughlin observations of WASP-13b and WASP-32b and determine the sky-projected angle between the normal of the planetary orbit and the stellar rotation axis (λ). WASP-13b and WASP-32b both have prograde orbits and are consistent with alignment with measured sky-projected angles of λ=8∘+13−12 and λ=−2∘+17−19, respectively.

Both WASP-13 and WASP-32 have Teff less than 6250K and therefore these systems support the general trend that aligned planetary systems are preferentially found orbiting cool host stars. A Lomb-Scargle periodogram analysis was carried out on archival SuperWASP data for both systems. A statistically significant stellar rotation period detection (above 99.9\% confidence) was identified for the WASP-32 system with Prot=11.6±1.0 days. This rotation period is in agreement with the predicted stellar rotation period calculated from the stellar radius, R⋆, and vsini if a stellar inclination of i⋆=90∘ is assumed. With the determined rotation period, the true 3D angle between the stellar rotation axis and the planetary orbit, ψ, was found to be ψ=11∘±14. We conclude with a discussion on the alignment of systems around cool host stars with Teff less than 6150K by calculating the tidal dissipation timescale. We find that systems with short tidal dissipation timescales are preferentially aligned and systems with long tidal dissipation timescales have a broad range of obliquities.

Jupiter-Class ExoPlanet Diversity

Exploring the Diversity of Jupiter-Class Planets (Discussion Meeting Contribution)


Fletcher et al


Royal Society Discussion Meeting (2013) `Characterizing exoplanets'. Of the 900+ confirmed exoplanets discovered since 1995 for which we have constraints on their mass (i.e., not including Kepler candidates), 75% have masses larger than Saturn (0.3MJ), 53% are more massive than Jupiter, and 67% are within 1 AU of their host stars. And yet the term `hot Jupiter' fails to account for the incredible diversity of this class of object, which exists on a continuum of giant planets from the cool jovians of our own solar system to the highly-irradiated, tidally-locked hot roasters. We review theoretical expectations for the temperatures, molecular composition and cloud properties of Jupiter-class objects under a variety of different conditions. We discuss the classification schemes for these Jupiter-class planets proposed to date, including the implications for our own Solar System giant planets and the pitfalls associated with classification at this early stage of exoplanetary spectroscopy. We discuss the range of planetary types described by previous authors, accounting for: (i) thermochemical equilibrium expectations for cloud condensation and favoured chemical stability fields; (ii) the metallicity and formation mechanism for these giant planets; (iii) the importance of optical absorbers for energy partitioning and the generation of a temperature inversion; (iv) the favoured photochemical pathways and expectations for minor species (e.g., saturated hydrocarbons and nitriles); (v) the unexpected presence of molecules due to vertical mixing of species above their quench levels; and (vi) methods for energy and material redistribution throughout the atmosphere (e.g., away from the highly irradiated daysides of close-in giants). Finally, we will discuss the benefits and flaws of retrieval techniques for establishing a family of atmospheric solutions that reproduce the available data.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Kepler-210: An Active Star With Two Hot Neptunes in Eccentric Orbits & a Predicted Third Planet

Kepler-210: An active star with at least two planets


Ioannidis et al


We report the detection and characterization of two short-period, Neptune-sized planets around the active host star Kepler-210. The host star's parameters derived from those planets are (a) mutually inconsistent and (b) do not conform to the expected host star parameters. We furthermore report the detection of transit timing variations (TTVs) in the O-C diagrams for both planets. We explore various scenarios that explain and resolve those discrepancies. A simple scenario consistent with all data appears to be one that attributes substantial eccentricities to the inner short-period planets and that interprets the TTVs as due to the action of another, somewhat longer period planet. To substantiate our suggestions, we present the results of N-body simulations that modeled the TTVs and that checked the stability of the Kepler-210 system.

Kepler-79s Fluffy Planets



Jontof-Hutter et al


Kepler-79 (KOI-152) has four planetary candidates ranging in size from 3.5 to 7 times the size of the Earth, in a compact configuration with orbital periods near a 1:2:4:6 chain of commensurability, from 13.5 to 81.1 days. All four planets exhibit transit timing variations with periods that are consistent with the distance of each planet to resonance with its neighbors. We perform a dynamical analysis of the system based on transit timing measurements over 1282 days of Kepler photometry. Stellar parameters are obtained using a combination of spectral classification and the stellar density constraints provided by light curve analysis and orbital eccentricity solutions from our dynamical study. Our models provide tight bounds on the masses of all four transiting bodies, demonstrating that they are planets and that they orbit the same star. All four of Kepler-79's transiting planets have low densities given their sizes, which is consistent with other studies of compact multiplanet transiting systems. The largest of the four, Kepler-79 d (KOI-152.01), has the lowest bulk density yet determined among sub-Saturn mass planets.

A Search is Ready for Alpha Centauri's Potential Terrestrial Exoplanets

The Mt John University Observatory Search For Earth-mass Planets In The Habitable Zone Of Alpha Centauri


Endl et al


The "holy grail" in planet hunting is the detection of an Earth-analog: a planet with similar mass as the Earth and an orbit inside the habitable zone. If we can find such an Earth-analog around one of the stars in the immediate solar neighborhood, we could potentially even study it in such great detail to address the question of its potential habitability. Several groups have focused their planet detection efforts on the nearest stars. Our team is currently performing an intensive observing campaign on the alpha Centauri system using the Hercules spectrograph at the 1-m McLellan telescope at Mt John University Observatory (MJUO) in New Zealand. The goal of our project is to obtain such a large number of radial velocity measurements with sufficiently high temporal sampling to become sensitive to signals of Earth-mass planets in the habitable zones of the two stars in this binary system. Over the past years, we have collected more than 45,000 spectra for both stars combined. These data are currently processed by an advanced version of our radial velocity reduction pipeline, which eliminates the effect of spectral cross-contamination. Here we present simulations of the expected detection sensitivity to low-mass planets in the habitable zone by the Hercules program for various noise levels. We also discuss our expected sensitivity to the purported Earth-mass planet in an 3.24-d orbit announced by Dumusque et al.~(2012).

Monday, March 24, 2014

Modeling Clouds, Water Vapor and Thermal Emissions of a Tidally Locked Terrestrial World



Yang et al


In the spirit of minimal modeling of complex systems, we develop an idealized two-column model to investigate the climate of tidally locked terrestrial planets with Earth-like atmospheres in the habitable zone of M-dwarf stars. The model is able to approximate the fundamental features of the climate obtained from three-dimensional (3D) atmospheric general circulation model (GCM) simulations. One important reason for the two-column model's success is that it reproduces the high cloud albedo of the GCM simulations, which reduces the planet's temperature and delays the onset of a runaway greenhouse state. The two-column model also clearly illustrates a secondary mechanism for determining the climate: the nightside acts as a "radiator fin" through which infrared energy can be lost to space easily. This radiator fin is maintained by a temperature inversion and dry air on the nightside, and plays a similar role to the subtropics on modern Earth. Since one-dimensional radiative-convective models cannot capture the effects of the cloud albedo and radiator fin, they are systematically biased toward a narrower habitable zone. We also show that cloud parameters are the most important in the two-column model for determining the day-night thermal emission contrast, which decreases and eventually reverses as the stellar flux increases. This reversal is important because it could be detected by future extrasolar planet characterization missions, which would suggest that the planet has Earth-like water clouds and is potentially habitable.

Are M Dwarf Terrestrial Exoplanets Less Vulnerable to Snowball Earth Scenarios?

Spectrum-driven Planetary Deglaciation Due to Increases in Stellar Luminosity


Shields et al


Distant planets in globally ice-covered, "snowball", states may depend on increases in their host stars' luminosity to become hospitable for surface life. Using a General Circulation Model (GCM), we simulated the equilibrium climate response of a planet to a range of instellations from an F-, G-, or M- dwarf star. The range of instellation that permits both complete ice cover and at least partially ice-free climate states is a measure of the climate hysteresis that a planet can exhibit. An ice-covered planet with high climate hysteresis would show a higher resistance to the initial loss of surface ice coverage with increases in instellation, and abrupt, extreme ice loss once deglaciation begins. Our simulations indicate that the climate hysteresis depends sensitively on the host star spectral energy distribution. Under fixed CO2 conditions, a planet orbiting an M-dwarf star exhibits a smaller climate hysteresis, requiring a smaller instellation to initiate deglaciation than planets orbiting hotter, brighter stars. This is due to the higher absorption of near-IR radiation by ice on the surfaces and greenhouse gases and clouds in the atmosphere of an M-dwarf planet. Increases in atmospheric CO2 further lower the climate hysteresis, as M-dwarf snowball planets exhibit a larger radiative response than G-dwarf snowball planets for the same increase in CO2. For a smaller hysteresis, planets near the outer edge of the habitable zone will thaw earlier in their evolutionary history, and will experience a less abrupt transition out of global ice cover.

Superhabitable Worlds

Heller et al


To be habitable, a world (planet or moon) does not need to be located in the stellar habitable zone (HZ), and worlds in the HZ are not necessarily habitable. Here, we illustrate how tidal heating can render terrestrial or icy worlds habitable beyond the stellar HZ. Scientists have developed a language that neglects the possible existence of worlds that offer more benign environments to life than Earth does. We call these objects “superhabitable” and discuss in which contexts this term could be used, that is to say, which worlds tend to be more habitable than Earth. In an appendix, we show why the principle of mediocracy cannot be used to logically explain why Earth should be a particularly habitable planet or why other inhabited worlds should be Earth-like.

Superhabitable worlds must be considered for future follow-up observations of signs of extraterrestrial life. Considering a range of physical effects, we conclude that they will tend to be slightly older and more massive than Earth and that their host stars will likely be K dwarfs. This makes Alpha Centauri B, which is a member of the closest stellar system to the Sun and is supposed to host an Earth-mass planet, an ideal target for searches for a superhabitable world.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Evolution and Effects of Magnetic Fields on Protoplanetary Disks

Guilet et al


The strength and structure of the large-scale magnetic field in protoplanetary discs are still unknown, although they could have important consequences for the dynamics and evolution of the disc. Using a mean-field approach in which we model the effects of turbulence through enhanced diffusion coefficients, we study the time-evolution of the large-scale poloidal magnetic field in a global model of a thin accretion disc, with particular attention to protoplanetary discs. With the transport coefficients usually assumed, the magnetic field strength does not significantly increase radially inwards, leading to a relatively weak magnetic field in the inner part of the disc. We show that with more realistic transport coefficients that take into account the vertical structure of the disc and the back-reaction of the magnetic field on the flow as obtained by Guilet & Ogilvie (2012), the magnetic field can significantly increase radially inwards. The magnetic-field profile adjusts to reach an equilibrium value of the plasma β parameter (the ratio of midplane thermal pressure to magnetic pressure) in the inner part of the disc. This value of β depends strongly on the aspect ratio of the disc and on the turbulent magnetic Prandtl number, and lies in the range 104−107 for protoplanetary discs. Such a magnetic field is expected to affect significantly the dynamics of protoplanetary discs by increasing the strength of MHD turbulence and launching an outflow. We discuss the implications of our results for the evolution of protoplanetary discs and for the formation of powerful jets as observed in T-Tauri star systems.

UX Ori Class Proto Star V1026 Sco's Inner Circumstellar Disk

The inner circumstellar disk of the UX Ori star V1026 Sco


Vural et al


The UX Ori type variables (named after the prototype of their class) are intermediate-mass pre-main sequence objects. One of the most likely causes of their variability is the obscuration of the central star by orbiting dust clouds. We investigate the structure of the circumstellar environment of the UX~Ori star V1026 Sco (HD 142666) and test whether the disk inclination is large enough to explain the UX Ori variability. We observed the object in the low-resolution mode of the near-infrared interferometric VLTI/AMBER instrument and derived H- and K-band visibilities and closure phases. We modeled our AMBER observations, published Keck Interferometer observations, archival MIDI/VLTI visibilities, and the spectral energy distribution using geometric and temperature-gradient models. Employing a geometric inclined-ring disk model, we find a ring radius of 0.15 +- 0.06 AU in the H band and 0.18 +- 0.06 AU in the K band. The best-fit temperature-gradient model consists of a star and two concentric, ring-shaped disks. The inner disk has a temperature of 1257^{+133}_{-53} K at the inner rim and extends from 0.19 +- 0.01 AU to 0.23 +- 0.02 AU. The outer disk begins at 1.35^{+0.19}_{-0.20} AU and has an inner temperature of 334^{+35}_{-17} K. The derived inclination of 48.6^{+2.9}_{-3.6}deg approximately agrees with the inclination derived with the geometric model (49 +- 5deg in the K band and 50 +- 11deg in the H band). The position angle of the fitted geometric and temperature-gradient models are 163 +- 9deg (K band; 179 +- 17deg in the H band) and 169.3^{+4.2}_{-6.7}deg, respectively. The narrow width of the inner ring-shaped model disk and the disk gap might be an indication for a puffed-up inner rim shadowing outer parts of the disk. The intermediate inclination of ~50deg is consistent with models of UX Ori objects where dust clouds in the inclined disk obscure the central star.

How Circumstellar Debris Disks Decay



Sierchio et al


We present a Spitzer MIPS study of the decay of debris disk excesses at 24 and 70 μm for 255 stars of types F4-K2. We have used multiple tests, including consistency between chromospheric and X-ray activity and placement on the H-R diagram, to assign accurate stellar ages. Within this spectral type range, at 24 μm, 13.6% ± 2.8% of the stars younger than 1 Gyr have excesses at the 3σ level or more, whereas none of the older stars do, confirming previous work. At 70 μm, 22.5% ± 3.6% of the younger stars have excesses at ≥3σ significance, whereas only $4.7^{+3.7}_{-2.2}$% of the older stars do. To characterize the far-infrared behavior of debris disks more robustly, we doubled the sample by including stars from the DEBRIS and DUNES surveys. For the F4-K4 stars in this combined sample, there is only a weak (statistically not significant) trend in the incidence of far-infrared excess with spectral type (detected fractions of 21.9$^{+4.8}_{-4.3}\%$, late F; 16.5$^{+3.9}_{-3.3}\%$, G; and 16.9$^{+6.3}_{-5.0}\%$, early K). Taking this spectral type range together, there is a significant decline between 3 and 4.5 Gyr in the incidence of excesses, with fractional luminosities just under 10–5. There is an indication that the timescale for decay of infrared excesses varies roughly inversely with the fractional luminosity. This behavior is consistent with theoretical expectations for passive evolution. However, more excesses are detected around the oldest stars than are expected from passive evolution, suggesting that there is late-phase dynamical activity around these stars.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Detecting Giant Planets Embedded in Protoplanetary Disks


Regaly et al


We investigate the formation of double-peaked asymmetric line profiles of CO in the fundamental band spectra emitted by young (1-5Myr) protoplanetary disks hosted by a 0.5-2 Solar mass star. Distortions of the line profiles can be caused by the gravitational perturbation of an embedded giant planet with q=4.7 10^-3 stellar-to-planet mass ratio. Locally isothermal, 2D hydrodynamic simulations show that the disk becomes globally eccentric inside the planetary orbit with stationary ~0.2-0.25 average eccentricity after ~2000 orbital periods. For orbital distances 1-10 AU, the disk eccentricity is peaked inside the region where the fundamental band of CO is thermal excitated. Hence, these lines become a sensitive indicators of the embedded planet via their asymmetries (both in flux and wavelength). We find that the line shape distortions (e.g. distance, central dip, asymmetry and positions of peaks) of a given transition depend on the excitation energy (i.e. on the rotational quantum number J). The magnitude of line asymmetry is increasing/decreasing with J if the planet orbits inside/outside the CO excitation zone (R_CO<=3, 5 and 7 AU for a 0.5,1 and 2 Solar mass star, respectively), thus one can constrain the orbital distance of a giant planet by determining the slope of peak asymmetry-J profile. We conclude that the presented spectroscopic phenomenon can be used to test the predictions of planet formation theories by pushing the age limits for detecting the youngest planetary systems.

Predictions for Microlensing Planetary Events

Predictions for Microlensing Planetary Events from Core Accretion Theory


Zhu et al


We conduct the first microlensing simulation in the context of planet formation model. The planet population is taken from the Ida & Lin core accretion model for 0.3M⊙ stars. With 6690 microlensing events, we find for a simplified Korea Microlensing Telescopes Network (KMTNet) the fraction of planetary events is 2.9% , out of which 5.8% show multiple-planet signatures. The number of super-Earths, super-Neptunes and super-Jupiters detected are expected to be almost equal. Our simulation shows that high-magnification events and massive planets are favored by planet detections, which is consistent with previous expectation. However, we notice that extremely high-magnification events are less sensitive to planets, which is possibly because the 10 min sampling of KMTNet is not intensive enough to capture the subtle anomalies that occur near the peak. This suggests that while KMTNet observations can be systematically analyzed without reference to any follow-up data, follow-up observations will be essential in extracting the full science potential of very high-magnification events. The uniformly high-cadence observations expected for KMTNet also result in ∼55% of all detected planets being non-caustic-crossing, and more low-mass planets even down to Mars-mass being detected via planetary caustics. We also find that the distributions of orbital inclinations and planet mass ratios in multiple-planet events agree with the intrinsic distributions.

Upcoming Micro Lensing Events

Candidate Gravitational Microlensing Events for Future Direct Lens Imaging


Henderson et al


The mass of the lenses giving rise to Galactic microlensing events can be constrained by measuring the relative lens-source proper motion and lens flux. The flux of the lens can be separated from that of the source, companions to the source, and unrelated nearby stars with high-resolution images taken when the lens and source are spatially resolved. For typical ground-based adaptive optics (AO) or space-based observations, this requires either inordinately long time baselines or high relative proper motions. We provide a list of microlensing events toward the Galactic Bulge with high relative lens-source proper motion that are therefore good candidates for constraining the lens mass with future high-resolution imaging. We investigate all events from 2004 -- 2013 that display detectable finite-source effects, a feature that allows us to measure the proper motion. In total, we present 20 events with mu greater than ~8 mas/yr. Of these, 14 were culled from previous analyses while 6 are new, including OGLE-2004-BLG-368, MOA-2005-BLG-36, OGLE-2012-BLG-0211, OGLE-2012-BLG-0456, MOA-2012-BLG-532, and MOA-2013-BLG-029. In less than~12 years the lens and source of each event will be sufficiently separated for ground-based telescopes with AO systems or space telescopes to resolve each component and further characterize the lens system. Furthermore, for the most recent events, comparison of the lens flux estimates from images taken immediately to those estimated from images taken when the lens and source are resolved can be used to empirically check the robustness of the single-epoch method currently being used to estimate lens masses for many events.

Friday, March 21, 2014

More Results From Exoplanet Hunting Around Ultracool Dwarfs

Astrometric planet search around southern ultracool dwarfs II: Astrometric reduction methods and a deep astrometric catalogue


Lazorenko et al


We describe the astrometric reduction of images obtained with the FORS2/VLT camera in the framework of an astrometric planet search around 20 M/L-transition dwarfs. We present the correction of systematic errors, the achieved astrometric performance, and a new astrometric catalogue containing the faint reference stars in 20 fields located close to the Galactic plane. We detected three types of systematic errors in the FORS2 astrometry: the relative motion of the camera's two CCD chips, errors that are correlated in space, and an error contribution of yet unexplained origin. The relative CCD motion has probably a thermal origin and usually is 0.001-0.010 px (~0.1-1 mas), but sometimes amounts to 0.02-0.05 px (3-6 mas). This instability and space-correlated errors are detected and mitigated using reference stars. The third component of unknown origin has an amplitude of 0.03-0.14 mas and is independent of the observing conditions. We find that a consecutive sequence of 32 images of a well-exposed star over 40 min at 0.6" seeing results in a median r.m.s. of the epoch residuals of 0.126 mas. Overall, the epoch residuals are distributed according to a normal law with a chi2~1. We compiled a catalogue of 12000 stars with I-band magnitudes of 16-22 located in 20 fields, each covering ~2x2'. It contains I-band magnitudes, ICRF positions with 40-70 mas precision, and relative proper motions and absolute trigonometric parallaxes with a precision of 0.1 mas/yr and 0.1 mas at the bright end, respectively.

Brown Dwarfs Found: Two New and One Cool From TW Hydrae

The Coolest Isolated Brown Dwarf Candidate Member of TWA


Gagn et al


We present two new late-type brown dwarf candidate members of the TW Hydrae association (TWA) : 2MASS J12074836-3900043 and 2MASS J12474428-3816464, which were found as part of the BANYAN all-sky survey (BASS) for brown dwarf members to nearby young associations. We obtained near-infrared (NIR) spectroscopy for both objects (NIR spectral types are respectively L1 and M9), as well as optical spectroscopy for J1207-3900 (optical spectral type is L0{\gamma}), and show that both display clear signs of low-gravity, and thus youth. We use the BANYAN II Bayesian inference tool to show that both objects are candidate members to TWA with a very low probability of being field contaminants, although the kinematics of J1247-3816 seem slightly at odds with that of other TWA members. J1207-3900 is currently the latest-type and the only isolated L-type candidate member of TWA. Measuring the distance and radial velocity of both objects is still required to claim them as bona fide members. Such late-type objects are predicted to have masses down to 11-15 MJup at the age of TWA, which makes them compelling targets to study atmospheric properties in a regime similar to that of currently known imaged extrasolar planets.

Brown Dwarf Temperature Fluctuations may Explain Variability

Temperature Fluctuations as a Source of Brown Dwarf Variability


Robinson et al


A number of brown dwarfs are now known to be variable with observed amplitudes as large as 10-30% at some wavelengths. While spatial inhomogeneities in cloud coverage and thickness are likely responsible for much of the observed variability, it is possible that some of the variations arise from atmospheric temperature fluctuations instead of, or in addition to, clouds. To better understand the role that thermal variability might play we present a case study of brown dwarf variability using a newly-developed one-dimensional, time-stepping model of atmospheric thermal structure. We focus on the effects of thermal perturbations, intentionally simplifying the problem through omission of clouds and atmospheric circulation. Model results demonstrate that thermal perturbations occurring deep in the atmosphere (at pressures greater than 10 bar) of a model T-dwarf can be communicated to the upper atmosphere through radiative heating via the windows in near-infrared water opacity. The response time depends on where in the atmosphere a thermal perturbation is introduced. We show that, for certain periodic perturbations, the emission spectrum can have complex, time- and wavelength-dependent behaviors, including phase shifts in times of maximum flux observed at different wavelengths. Since different wavelengths probe different levels in the atmosphere, these variations track a wavelength-dependent set of radiative exchanges happening between different atmospheric levels as a perturbation evolves in time. We conclude that thermal--as well as cloud--fluctuations must be considered as possible contributors to the observed brown dwarf variability.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

SuperEarth GJ 1214b may Have Clouds

Ground-based transit observations of the super-Earth GJ 1214b


Caceres et al


GJ 1214b is one of the few known transiting super-Earth-sized exoplanets with a measured mass and radius. It orbits an M-dwarf, only 14.55 pc away, making it a favorable candidate for follow-up studies. However, the composition of GJ 1214b's mysterious atmosphere has yet to be fully unveiled. Our goal is to distinguish between the various proposed atmospheric models to explain the properties of GJ 1214b: hydrogen-rich or hydrogen-He mix, or a heavy molecular weight atmosphere with reflecting high clouds, as latest studies have suggested. Wavelength-dependent planetary radii measurements from the transit depths in the optical/NIR are the best tool to investigate the atmosphere of GJ 1214b. We present here (i) photometric transit observations with a narrow-band filter centered on 2.14 microns and a broad-band I-Bessel filter centered on 0.8665 microns, and (ii) transmission spectroscopy in the H and K atmospheric windows that cover three transits. The obtained photometric and spectrophotometric time series were analyzed with MCMC simulations to measure the planetary radii as a function of wavelength. We determined radii ratios of 0.1173 for I-Bessel and 0.11735 at 2.14 microns. Our measurements indicate a flat transmission spectrum, in agreement with last atmospheric models that favor featureless spectra with clouds and high molecular weight compositions.

Oxygen Could be Abiotic in Terrestrial Exoplanets in the Habitable Zone

Abiotic oxygen-dominated atmospheres on terrestrial habitable zone planets


Wordsworth et al


Detection of life on other planets requires identification of biosignatures, i.e., observable planetary properties that robustly indicate the presence of a biosphere. One of the most widely accepted biosignatures for an Earth-like planet is an atmosphere where oxygen is a major constituent. Here we show that lifeless habitable zone terrestrial planets around any star type may develop oxygen-dominated atmospheres as a result of water photolysis, because the cold trap mechanism that protects H2O on Earth is ineffective when the atmospheric inventory of non-condensing gases (e.g., N2, Ar) is low. Hence the spectral features of O2 and O3 alone cannot be regarded as robust signs of extraterrestrial life.

Extreme Obliquity Variation Effects on the Habitability

Effects of Extreme Obliquity Variations on the Habitability of Exoplanets


Armstrong et al


We explore the impact of obliquity variations on planetary habitability in hypothetical systems with high mutual inclination. We show that large-amplitude, high-frequency obliquity oscillations on Earth-like exoplanets can suppress the ice-albedo feedback, increasing the outer edge of the habitable zone. We restricted our exploration to hypothetical systems consisting of a solar-mass star, an Earth-mass planet at 1 AU, and 1 or 2 larger planets. We verified that these systems are stable for 108 years with N-body simulations and calculated the obliquity variations induced by the orbital evolution of the Earth-mass planet and a torque from the host star. We ran a simplified energy balance model on the terrestrial planet to assess surface temperature and ice coverage on the planet's surface, and we calculated differences in the outer edge of the habitable zone for planets with rapid obliquity variations. For each hypothetical system, we calculated the outer edge of habitability for two conditions: (1) the full evolution of the planetary spin and orbit and (2) the eccentricity and obliquity fixed at their average values. We recovered previous results that higher values of fixed obliquity and eccentricity expand the habitable zone, but we also found that obliquity oscillations further expand habitable orbits in all cases. Terrestrial planets near the outer edge of the habitable zone may be more likely to support life in systems that induce rapid obliquity oscillations as opposed to fixed-spin planets. Such planets may be the easiest to directly characterize with space-borne telescopes.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

.5% of G Dwarf Stars, .8 % of K Dwarf Stars Have Ultra Short Period Planets

A Study of the Shortest-Period Planets Found With Kepler


Sanchis-Ojeda et al


We present the results of a survey aimed at discovering and studying transiting planets with orbital periods shorter than one day (ultra--short-period, or USP, planets), using data from the {\em Kepler} spacecraft. We computed Fourier transforms of the photometric time series for all 200,000 target stars, and detected transit signals based on the presence of regularly spaced sharp peaks in the Fourier spectrum. We present a list of 106 USP candidates, of which 18 have not previously been described in the literature. In addition, among the objects we studied, there are 26 USP candidates that had been previously reported in the literature which do not pass our various tests. All 106 of our candidates have passed several standard tests to rule out false positives due to eclipsing stellar systems. A low false positive rate is also implied by the relatively high fraction of candidates for which more than one transiting planet signal was detected. By assuming these multi-transit candidates represent coplanar multi-planet systems, we are able to infer that the USP planets are typically accompanied by other planets with periods in the range 1-50 days, in contrast with hot Jupiters which very rarely have companions in that same period range. Another clear pattern is that almost all USP planets are smaller than 2 R⊕, possibly because gas giants in very tight orbits would lose their atmospheres by photoevaporation when subject to extremely strong stellar irradiation. Based on our survey statistics, USP planets exist around approximately (0.51±0.07)% of G-dwarf stars, and (0.83±0.18)% of K-dwarf stars.

Hot Jupiter HD 189733b Revisited

A new look at Spitzer primary transit observations of the exoplanet HD189733b


Morello et al


Blind source separation techniques are used to reanalyse two exoplanetary transit lightcurves of the exoplanet HD189733b recorded with the IR camera IRAC on board the Spitzer Space Telescope at 3.6μm during the "cold" era. These observations, together with observations at other IR wavelengths, are crucial to characterise the atmosphere of the planet HD189733b. Previous analyses of the same datasets reported discrepant results, hence the necessity of the reanalyses. The method we used here is based on the Independent Component Analysis (ICA) statistical technique, which ensures a high degree of objectivity. The use of ICA to detrend single photometric observations in a self-consistent way is novel in the literature. The advantage of our reanalyses over previous work is that we do not have to make any assumptions on the structure of the unknown instrumental systematics. Such "admission of ignorance" may result in larger error bars than reported in the literature, up to a factor 1.6. This is a worthwhile trade-off for much higher objectivity, necessary for trustworthy claims. Our main results are (1) improved and robust values of orbital and stellar parameters, (2) new measurements of the transit depths at 3.6μm, (3) consistency between the parameters estimated from the two observations, (4) repeatability of the measurement within the photometric level of ∼2×10−4 in the IR, (5) no evidence of stellar variability at the same photometric level within 1 year.

Potential of Hot Jupiters Within Host Star Roche Limits

Planets on the Edge


Valsecchi et al


Hot Jupiters formed through circularization of high-eccentricity orbits should be found at orbital separations a exceeding twice that of their Roche limit aR. Nevertheless, about a dozen giant planets have now been found well within this limit (aR less than a less than 2aR), with one coming as close as 1.2aR. In this Letter, we show that orbital decay (starting beyond 2aR) driven by tidal dissipation in the star can naturally explain these objects. For a few systems (WASP-4 and 19), this explanation requires the linear reduction in convective tidal dissipation proposed originally by Zahn (1966) and verified by recent numerical simulations (Penev et al. 2007), but rules out the quadratic prescription proposed by Goldreich and Nicholson (1977). Additionally, we find that WASP-19-type systems could potentially provide empirical support to the Zahn's (1966) prescription through high precision transit timing measurements of their orbital decay rate.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Observations of the Proto Brown Dwarf SSTB213 J041757

SMA observations of the proto brown dwarf candidate SSTB213 J041757


Phan-Bao et al


The previously identified source SSTB213 J041757 is a proto brown dwarf candidate in Taurus, which has two possible components A and B. It was found that component B is probably a class 0/I proto brown dwarf associated with an extended envelope.

Studying molecular outflows from young brown dwarfs provides important insight into brown dwarf formation mechanisms, particularly brown dwarfs at the earliest stages such as class 0, I. We therefore conducted a search for molecular outflows from SSTB213 J041757.

We observed SSTB213 J041757 with the Submillimeter Array to search for CO molecular outflow emission from the source.

Our CO maps do not show any outflow emission from the proto brown dwarf candidate.

The non-detection implies that the molecular outflows from the source are weak; deeper observations are therefore needed to probe the outflows from the source.

MOA-2013-BLG-220Lb: a Three Jupiter Mass Planet Orbiting a Brown Dwarf

MOA-2013-BLG-220Lb: Planetary Companion to a Possible Brown Dwarf Host


Yee et al


Based on its high proper motion $\mu=12.5\pm 1\,\masyr$, MOA-2013-BLG-220Lb is the best candidate to date for a microlensing planet with a verifiable brown dwarf host. This candidacy can be partially tested immediately and more fully tested by ∼2021, when the source and lens will have separated sufficiently to be resolved in high-resolution images even if the lens is at the bottom of the main sequence, and so extremely faint, H∼24. The planet-star mass ratio is q=3.01±0.02×10−3. The planet could have been detected and characterized purely with follow-up data. The potential to completely characterize planetary events from followup data has far-reaching implications for microlensing surveys, both current and into the LSST era.

LHS 6343 System: A M Class Dwarf With a Brown Dwarf in a 42 1/2 day Orbit

Doppler-beaming in the Kepler light curve of LHS 6343 A


Herrero et al


Kepler observations revealed a brown dwarf eclipsing the M-type star LHS 6343 A with a period of 12.71 days. In addition, an out-of-eclipse light modulation with the same period and a relative semi-amplitude of 2 x 10^-4 was observed showing an almost constant phase lag to the eclipses produced by the brown dwarf. In a previous work, we concluded that this was due to the light modulation induced by photospheric active regions in LHS 6343 A.

In the present work, we prove that most of the out-of-eclipse light modulation is caused by the Doppler-beaming induced by the orbital motion of the primary star. Methods. We introduce a model of the Doppler-beaming for an eccentric orbit and also considered the ellipsoidal effect. The data were fitted using a Bayesian approach implemented through a Monte Carlo Markov chain method. Model residuals were analysed by searching for periodicities using a Lomb-Scargle periodogram.

For the first seven quarters of Kepler observations and the orbit previously derived from the radial velocity measurements, we show that the light modulation of the system outside eclipses is dominated by the Doppler-beaming effect. A period search performed on the residuals shows a significant periodicity of 42.5 +- 3.2 days with a false-alarm probability of 5 x 10^-4, probably associated with the rotational modulation of the primary component.

Monday, March 17, 2014

OGLE-2012-BLG-0455/MOA-2012-BLG-206 are Ambiguous Micro Lensing Events, Need More Data

OGLE-2012-BLG-0455/MOA-2012-BLG-206: Microlensing event with ambiguity in planetary interpretations caused by incomplete coverage of planetary signal


Park et al


Characterizing a microlensing planet is done from modeling an observed lensing light curve. In this process, it is often confronted that solutions of different lensing parameters result in similar light curves, causing difficulties in uniquely interpreting the lens system, and thus understanding the causes of different types of degeneracy is important. In this work, we show that incomplete coverage of a planetary perturbation can also result in degenerate solutions even for events where the planetary signal is detected with a high level of statistical significance. We demonstrate the degeneracy for an actually observed event OGLE-2012-BLG-0455/MOA-2012-BLG-206. The peak of this high-magnification event (Amax∼400) exhibits very strong deviation from a point-lens model with Δχ2≳4000. From detailed modeling of the light curve, we find that the deviation can be explained by four distinct solutions, i.e., two very different sets of solutions, each with a two-fold degeneracy. While the two-fold (so-called ``close/wide'') degeneracy is well-understood, the degeneracy between the radically different solutions is not previously known. The model light curves of this degeneracy differ substantially in the parts that were not covered by observation, indicating that the degeneracy is caused by the incomplete coverage of the perturbation. It is expected that the frequency of the degeneracy introduced in this work will be greatly reduced with the improvement of the current lensing survey and follow-up experiments and the advent of new surveys.

KIC 12557548b: A Disintegrating sub-Mercury

Multiwavelength Observations of the Candidate Disintegrating sub-Mercury KIC 12557548b


Croll et al


We present multiwavelength photometry, high angular resolution imaging, and radial velocities, of the unique and confounding disintegrating low-mass planet candidate KIC 12557548b. Our high angular resolution imaging, which includes spacebased HST/WFC3 observations in the optical, and groundbased Keck/NIRC2 observations in K'-band, allow us to rule-out background and foreground candidates at angular separations greater than 0.2 arcsec that are bright enough to be responsible for the transits we associate with KIC 12557548. Our radial velocity limit from Keck/HIRES allows us to rule-out bound, low-mass stellar companions to KIC 12557548 on orbits less than 10 years, as well as placing an upper-limit on the mass of the candidate planet of 1.2 Jupiter masses; therefore, the combination of our radial velocities, high angular-resolution imaging, and photometry are able to rule-out most false positive interpretations of the transits. Our precise multiwavelength photometry includes two simultaneous detections of the transit of KIC 12557548b using CFHT/WIRCam at 2.15 microns and the Kepler space telescope at 0.6 microns, as well as simultaneous null-detections of the transit by Kepler and HST/WFC3 at 1.4 microns. Our simultaneous HST/WFC3 and Kepler null-detections, provide no evidence for radically different transit depths at these wavelengths. Our simultaneous CFHT/WIRCam detections in the near-infrared and with Kepler in the optical reveal very similar transit depths (the average ratio of the transit depths at ~2.15 microns compared to ~0.6 microns is: 1.02 +/- 0.20). This suggests that if the transits we observe are due to scattering from single-size particles streaming from the planet in a comet-like tail, then the particles must be ~0.5 microns in radius or larger, which would favor that KIC 12557548b is a sub-Mercury, rather than super-Mercury, mass planet.

Revising the Kepler-9 System

Kepler-9 revisited 60% the mass with six times more data


Dreizler et al


Kepler-9 was the first case where transit timing variations have been used to confirm the planets in this system. Following predictions of dramatic TTVs - larger than a week - we re-analyse the system based on the full Kepler data set. We re-processed all available data for Kepler-9 removing short and long term trends, measured the times of mid-transit and used those for dynamical analysis of the system. The newly determined masses and radii of Kepler-9b and -9c change the nature of these planets relative to the one described in Holman et al. 2010 (hereafter H10) with very low, but relatively well charcterised (to better than 7%), bulk densities of 0.18 and 0.14 g cm3 (about 1/3 of the H10 value). We constrain the masses (45.1 and 31.0 M⊕, for Kepler-9b and -9c respectively) from photometry alone, allowing us to see possible indications for an outer non-transiting planet in the radial velocity data. At 2R⊕ Kepler-9d is determined to be larger than suggested before - suggesting that it is a low-mass low-density planet. The comparison between the H10 analysis and our new analysis suggests that small formal error in the TTV inversion may be misleading if the data does not cover a significant fraction of the interaction time scale.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Galactic Habitable Zone of the Milky Way & M31 Modeled

The galactic habitable zone of the Milky Way and M31 from chemical evolution models with gas radial flows


Spitoni et al


The galactic habitable zone is defined as the region with sufficient abundance of heavy elements to form planetary systems in which Earth-like planets could be born and might be capable of sustaining life, after surviving to close supernova explosion events. Galactic chemical evolution models can be useful for studying the galactic habitable zones in different systems. We apply detailed chemical evolution models including radial gas flows to study the galactic habitable zones in our Galaxy and M31. We compare the results to the relative galactic habitable zones found with "classical" (independent ring) models, where no gas inflows were included. For both the Milky Way and Andromeda, the main effect of the gas radial inflows is to enhance the number of stars hosting a habitable planet with respect to the "classical" model results, in the region of maximum probability for this occurrence, relative to the classical model results. These results are obtained by taking into account the supernova destruction processes. In particular, we find that in the Milky Way the maximum number of stars hosting habitable planets is at 8 kpc from the Galactic center, and the model with radial flows predicts a number which is 38% larger than what predicted by the classical model. For Andromeda we find that the maximum number of stars with habitable planets is at 16 kpc from the center and that in the case of radial flows this number is larger by 10 % relative to the stars predicted by the classical model.

Beta Pictoris Exhibits Large Planetary Embryos Colliding

Debris from giant impacts between planetary embryos at large orbital radii


Jackson et al


We consider the observational signatures of giant impacts between planetary embryos. While the debris released in the impact remains in a clump for only a single orbit, there is a much longer lasting asymmetry caused by the fact that all debris must pass through the collision-point. The resulting asymmetry is stationary, it does not orbit the star. The debris is concentrated in a clump at the collision-point, with a more diffuse structure on the opposite side. The asymmetry lasts for typically around 1000 orbital periods of the progenitor, which can be several Myr at distances of ~50 AU. We describe how the appearance of the asymmetric disc depends on the mass and eccentricity of the progenitor, as well as viewing orientation. The wavelength of observation, which determines the grain sizes probed, is also important. Notably, the increased collision rate of the debris at the collision-point makes this the dominant production site for any secondary dust and gas created. For dust small enough to be removed by radiation pressure, and gas with a short lifetime, this causes their distribution to resemble a jet emanating from the (stationary) collision-point. We suggest that the asymmetries seen at large separations in some debris discs, like Beta Pictoris, could be the result of giant impacts. If so this would indicate that planetary embryos are present and continuing to grow at several tens of AU at ages of up to tens of Myr.

Class O Stars can be Disruptive to Planet Formation in Nebulae

The Orion Nebula is home to hundreds of young stars and even younger protostars known as proplyds. Many of these nascent systems will go on to develop planets, while others will have their planet-forming dust and gas blasted away by the fierce ultraviolet radiation emitted by massive O-type stars that lurk nearby.

A team of astronomers from Canada and the United States has used the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) to study the often deadly relationship between highly luminous O-type stars and nearby protostars in the Orion Nebula. Their data reveal that protostars within 0.1 light-years (about 600 billion miles) of an O-type star are doomed to have their cocoons of dust and gas stripped away in just a few millions years, much faster than planets are able to form.

"O-type stars, which are really monsters compared to our Sun, emit tremendous amounts of ultraviolet radiation and this can play havoc during the development of young planetary systems," remarked Rita Mann, an astronomer with the National Research Council of Canada in Victoria, and lead author on a paper in the Astrophysical Journal. "Using ALMA, we looked at dozens of embryonic stars with planet-forming potential and, for the first time, found clear indications where protoplanetary disks simply vanished under the intense glow of a neighboring massive star."

Many, if not all, Sun-like stars are born in crowded stellar nurseries similar to the Orion Nebula. Over the course of just a few million years, grains of dust and reservoirs of gas combine into larger, denser bodies. Left relatively undisturbed, these systems will eventually evolve into fully fledged star systems, with planets -- large and small -- and ultimately drift away to become part of the galactic stellar population.

Astronomers believe that massive yet short-lived stars in and around large interstellar clouds are essential for this ongoing process of star formation. At the end of their lives, massive stars explode as supernovas, seeding the surrounding area with dust and heavy elements that will get taken up in the next generation of stars. These explosions also provide the kick necessary to initiate a new round of star and planet formation. But while they still shine bright, these larger stars can be downright deadly to planets if an embryonic solar systems strays too close.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Doing Transit Searches From Antarctica and Chile

Transit Search from Antarctica and Chile - Comparison and Combination


Fruth et al


Observing sites at the East-Antarctic plateau are considered to provide exceptional conditions for astronomy. The aim of this work is to assess its potential for detecting transiting extrasolar planets through a comparison and combination of photometric data from Antarctica with time series from a midlatitude site.

During 2010, the two small aperture telescopes ASTEP 400 (Dome C) and BEST II (Chile) together performed an observing campaign of two target fields and the transiting planet WASP-18b. For the latter, a bright star, Dome C appears to yield an advantageous signal-to-noise ratio. For field surveys, both Dome C and Chile appear to be of comparable photometric quality. However, within two weeks, observations at Dome C yield a transit detection efficiency that typically requires a whole observing season in Chile. For the first time, data from Antarctica and Chile have been combined to extent the observational duty cycle. This approach is both feasible in practice and favorable for transit search, as it increases the detection yield by 12-18%.

A New Method for Giant Planets to Form

Core-assisted gas capture instability: a new mode of giant planet formation by gravitationally unstable discs


Nayakshin et al


Giant planet formation in the core accretion (CA) paradigm is predicated by the formation of a core, assembled by the coagulation of grains and later by planetesimals within a protoplanetary disc. In contrast, in the disc instability paradigm, giant planet formation is believed to be independent of core formation: massive self-gravitating gas fragments cool radiatively and collapse as a whole. We show that giant planet formation in the disc instability model may be also enhanced by core formation for reasons physically very similar to the CA paradigm. In the model explored here, efficient grain sedimentation within an initial fragment (rather than the disc) leads to the formation of a core composed of heavy elements. We find that massive atmospheres form around cores and undergo collapse as a critical core mass is exceeded, analogous to CA theory. The critical mass of the core to initiate such a collapse depends on the fragment mass and metallicity, as well as core luminosity, but ranges from less than 1 to as much as ∼80 Earth masses. We therefore suggest that there are two channels for the collapse of a gaseous fragment to planetary scales within the disc instability model: (i) H2 dissociative collapse of the entire gaseous clump, and (ii) core-assisted gas capture, as presented here. We suggest that the first of these two is favoured in metal-poor environments and for fragments more massive than ∼5−10 Jupiter masses, whereas the second is favored in metal-rich environments and fragments of lower mass.

How Dust Behaves in Protoplanetary Disks

Diversity in the outcome of dust radial drift in protoplanetary discs


Pinte et al


The growth of dust particles into planet embryos needs to circumvent the radial-drift barrier, i.e. the accretion of dust particles onto the central star by radial migration. The outcome of he dust radial migration is governed by simple criteria between the dust-to-gas ratio and the exponents p and q of the surface density and temperature power-laws. The transfer of radiation provides an additional constraint between these quantities as the disc thermal structure is fixed by the dust spatial distribution. In order to assess which discs are preferentially affected by the radial-drift barrier, we use the radiative transfer code MCFOST to compute the temperature structure of a large range of disc models, stressing the particular effects of grain size distributions and vertical settling.

We find that the outcome of the dust migration process is very sensitive to the physical conditions within the disc. For high dust-to-gas ratios (greater than 0.01) or flattened disc structures (H/R 0.05), growing dust grains can efficiently decouple from the gas, leading to a high concentration of grains at a critical radius of a few AU. Decoupling of grains can occur at a large fraction (greater than 0.1) of the initial radius, for a dust-to-gas ratio larger than ~ 0.05. The exact value of the required dust-to-gas ratio for dust to stop its migration is strongly dependent on the disc temperature structure. Non growing dust grains are accreted for discs with flat surface density profiles (p less than 0.7) while they always remain in the disc if the surface density is steep enough (p less than 1.2). Both the presence of large grains and vertical settling tend to favour the accretion of non growing dust grains onto the central object, but it slows down the migration of growing dust grains. Importantly, all the disc configurations are found to have favourable temperature profiles over most of the disc to retain their planetesimals.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Exoplanet Hunt Around Very Cool Stars and Brown Dwarfs Produces First Parallax Results

Astrometric planet search around southern ultracool dwarfs I: First results including parallaxes of 20 M8-L2 dwarfs


Sahlmann et al


Extrasolar planet searches targeting very low-mass stars and brown dwarfs are hampered by intrinsic or instrumental limitations. Time series of astrometric measurements with precisions better than one milli-arcsecond can yield new evidence on the planet occurrence around these objects. We present first results of an astrometric search for planets around 20 nearby dwarf stars with spectral types M8-L2. Over a timespan of two years, we obtained I-band images of the target fields with the FORS2 camera at the Very Large Telescope. Using background stars as references, we monitored the targets' astrometric trajectories, which allowed us to measure parallax and proper motions, set limits on the presence of planets, and to discover the orbital motions of two binary systems. We determined trigonometric parallaxes with an average accuracy of 0.09 mas (~0.2 %) resulting in a reference sample for the study of ultracool dwarfs at the M/L transition, whose members are located at distances of 9.5-40 pc. This sample contains two newly discovered tight binaries (DE0630-18 and DE0823-49) and one previously known wide binary (DE1520-44). Only one target shows I-band variability greater than 5 mmag r.m.s. We derived planet exclusion limits that set an upper limit of 9 % to the occurrence of giant planets with masses greater than 5 MJup in intermediate-separation (0.01-0.8 AU) orbits around M8-L2 dwarfs. We demonstrated that astrometric observations with an accuracy of 120 micro-arcsec over two years are feasible from the ground and can be used for a planet search survey. The detection of two tight very low-mass binaries showed that our search strategy is efficient and may lead to the detection of planetary-mass companions through follow-up observations.

Lightning in Brown Dwarf & Exoplanet Exoatmospheres



Bailey et al


Mineral clouds in substellar atmospheres play a special role as a catalyst for a variety of charge processes. If clouds are charged, the surrounding environment becomes electrically activated, and ensembles of charged grains are electrically discharging (e.g., by lightning), which significantly influences the local chemistry creating conditions similar to those thought responsible for life in early planetary atmospheres. We note that such lightning discharges contribute also to the ionization state of the atmosphere. We apply scaling laws for electrical discharge processes from laboratory measurements and numerical experiments to DRIFT-PHOENIX model atmosphere results to model the discharge's propagation downward (as lightning) and upward (as sprites) through the atmospheric clouds. We evaluate the spatial extent and energetics of lightning discharges. The atmospheric volume affected (e.g., by increase of temperature or electron number) is larger in a brown dwarf atmosphere (108-1010 m3) than in a giant gas planet (104-106 m3). Our results suggest that the total dissipated energy in one event is less than 10^12 J for all models of initial solar metallicity. First attempts to show the influence of lightning on the local gas phase indicate an increase of small carbohydrate molecules like CH and CH2 at the expense of CO and CH4. Dust-forming molecules are destroyed and the cloud particle properties are frozen in unless enough time is available for complete evaporation. We summarize instruments potentially suitable to observe lightning on extrasolar objects.

Modeling Atmospheric Circulation of Brown Dwarfs

Atmospheric Circulation of Brown Dwarfs: Jets, Vortices, and Time Variability


Zhang et al


A variety of observational evidence demonstrates that brown dwarfs exhibit active atmospheric circulations. In this study we use a shallow-water model to investigate the global atmospheric dynamics in the stratified layer overlying the convective zone on these rapidly rotating objects. We show that the existence and properties of the atmospheric circulation crucially depend on key parameters including the energy injection rate and radiative timescale. Under conditions of strong internal heat flux and weak radiative dissipation, a banded flow pattern comprising east-west jet streams spontaneously emerges from the interaction of atmospheric turbulence with the planetary rotation. In contrast, when the internal heat flux is weak and/or radiative dissipation is strong, turbulence injected into the atmosphere damps before it can self-organize into jets, leading to a flow dominated by isotropic turbulence and vortices instead. Based on the location of the transition, we suggest that many brown dwarfs may exhibit atmospheric circulations dominated by turbulence and vortices (rather than jets) due to the strong radiative damping on these worlds, but a jet structure is also possible under some conditions. Our simulated light curves capture important features from observed infrared lightcurves of brown dwarfs, including amplitude variations of a few percent and shapes that fluctuate between single-peak and multi-peak structures. More broadly, our work shows that the shallow-water system provides a useful tool to illuminate fundamental aspects of the dynamics on these worlds.