Category Archives: Hot Jupiters

Early arrival of WASP-4b transits

As NASA’s TESS satellite surveys the Southern sky is it observing many of the WASP planets. One interesting piece of analysis is to check how the transit timings compare with predictions, to look for changes in the orbital periods.

Here’s a plot from a new paper by Luke Bouma et al.

The orange Gaussians show the error range within which TESS-observed transits would be expected to occur, based on previous data, if there has been no change in the period. The blue Gaussians are the actual TESS measurements.

For most of the planets the two ranges overlap, which means the transit times are as expected. For WASP-4 (top-left), however, the transits arrived early by 80 secs, too much to be accounted for by the expected error in the ephemeris.

This suggests that the period of WASP-4b might be changing rather rapidly.

Since TESS is likely to re-observe the Southern hemisphere in future years, it will be interesting to see what happens next.

NASA’s multimedia presentation on WASP-12b

NASA has been producing presentations for its website: Exoplanet Exploration: Planets Beyond our Solar System. One of these features WASP-12b, chosen because its short-period orbit and large, bloated radius mean that the shape of the planet is distorted by the host-star’s gravity into an egg-shaped Roche lobe.

Meanwhile the Interesting Engineering website has produced a compilation of seven “weird” exoplanets, of which one is the possible ring-system planet found in WASP data, J1407b.

WASP-134b and WASP-134c: a pair of warm Jupiters

Most of the planets that WASP discovers are “hot Jupiters”, often defined as having an orbital period less than 10 days, though they clump at periods of 3 to 5 days. Occasionally we find “warm Jupiters”, with periods greater than 10 days. There seem to be far fewer of these (and not just because they’re harder to find, which they are, owing to being less likely to transit, because they are further away, and because they produce fewer transits because of the longer periods).

Our latest discovery paper, led by David Anderson, announces the WASP-134 system. An analysis of the radial-velocity observations looks like this:

There are clearly two different cycles from two different planets. Both are warm Jupiters. The inner one (upper panel) has a period just over 10 days while the outer one (lower panel) has a 70-day period. Both orbits are eccentric (the fits are clearly not sinusoids) and both planets have a mass of about one Jupiter.

This is relatively rare. Few systems are known where a shorter-period, Jupiter-mass planet has a Jupiter-mass companion with an orbit as short as 70 days. (Several systems are known where the companion is much further out, with a period of hundreds of days.)

The presence of two such planets makes it unlikely that the inner one got to its present position by the Lidov–Kozai “high eccentricity migration” pathways that are thought to explain many hot Jupiters. Such a pathway for one planet would be disrupted by the presence of the second planet.

This means that it is more likely that the two planets, WASP-134b and WASP-134c, either formed where they are, or moved inwards by “disc migration” mechanisms. Thus the two WASP-134 planets are perhaps a different population, with a different past history, than the majority of the planets found by WASP.

Spectral contamination from starspots on WASP-4

Here’s a topic we’ll be hearing much more about: how the observed spectrum of a transiting exoplanet is affected by transiting across star-spots. In “transmission spectroscopy” the starlight shines through the planet’s atmosphere during transit, and the easiest thing to do is assume that the star itself is a uniform light source.

But as discussed by papers led by Ben Rackham, if the planet passes over a dark region (star spot) or bright region (faculae), this would change the observed spectrum.

A new paper led by Alex Bixel about WASP-4b is the first to attempt to correct for this effect. The authors’ transit observations show a clear crossing of a starspot (the feature is shown in blue, the spot shows as a upward bump since the planet is then removing less light):

And here is the difference it makes. The blue curve is the observed spectrum, presumed to be of the planet’s atmosphere. The orange curve is then the spectrum corrected for the presence of the star spot.

The details of how to do this are complex, and are discussed at length in the above papers. The central message is that “active FGK host stars can produce such features and care is warranted in interpreting transmission spectra from these systems”.

However, there is good news in that: “stellar contamination in transmission spectra of FGK-hosted exoplanets is generally less problematic than for exoplanets orbiting M dwarfs”, and that such signals “are generally minor at wavelengths of planetary atomic and molecular features”. Overall the authors say that their study “bodes well for high-precision observations of these targets”.

Helium in WASP-69b, HAT-P-11b and HD 189733b

Earlier this year helium was found in the outer atmosphere of WASP-107b, the first detection of helium in an exoplanet. Several teams have now used similar techniques to find helium in WASP-69b, HAT-P-11b and HD 189733b, leading to a slew of papers and accompanying press releases from the Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía, the University of Exeter and others (see [1], [2], [3] and [4]).

Artist’s impression of an escaping envelope of helium surrounding WASP-69b. (Credit: Gabriel Perez Diaz, IAC)

Lisa Nortmann, lead author of the WASP-69b paper, explains that the helium is escaping from the atmosphere, forming a comet-like tail: “We observed a stronger and longer-lasting dimming of the starlight in a region of the spectrum where helium gas absorbs light. The longer duration of this absorption allows us to infer the presence of a tail.”

The press releases have led to extensive coverage including by CNN, the Daily Mail and Tech Times.

The IAA press release includes a video illustration of WASP-69b, created by Gabriel Perez Diaz of the IAC:

Is WASP-12b’s orbital decay driven by obliquity tides?

Tidal interactions between hot-Jupiter exoplanets and the host star should be causing their orbits to decay, such that the planet gradually spirals inwards. For most systems the change would be too small to detect in the decade or so that we’ve been observing them. However, WASP-12b is an exception, showing a clear change in its orbital period.

In a new paper on arXiv, Gracjan Maciejewski et al present the latest data for WASP-12b:

The graph records the change in transit time (“observed minus calculated” times, or O–C), showing that the transits are now occurring eight minutes early owing to a decreasing orbital period.

Such a rate is far faster than observed in other systems, and too large to be explained by the standard theory of tidal interactions.

However, a new paper led by Sarah Millholland suggests an answer. She suggests that the planet is tilted over, so that the axis around which it spins is tilted with respect to the plane of the planet’s orbit.

This means that the star will give rise to strong “obliquity tides” on the planet, and the dissipation of those tides could explain the decay of the orbit. For this to work something must be keeping the planet tilted over. Millholland suggests that a second planet in an outer orbit might be perturbing WASP-12b, keeping it in the high-obliquity state. This scenario requires some fine tuning, but if WASP-12 is the only system known to show this behaviour then the explanation is plausible.

A Hot Polar Planet

Scientific American Blogs has picked up on our recent announcement of WASP-189b, an ultra-hot Jupiter transiting the bright A star HR 5599 in a polar orbit.

The host star, HR 5599, has a visual magnitude of V = 6.6, making it the brightest host star of a transiting hot Jupiter. The Scientific American piece, written by Caleb Scharf, focuses on the fact that the planet is in near-perfectly aligned polar orbit, saying:

“Like with other mis-aligned hot-Jupiter worlds, the big question is how does this situation arise? We don’t know for sure. One idea is that these planets have to form at larger distances from their stars and then migrate inwards — due to interactions either with a proto-planetary disk or other worlds, or both. Those interactions can also pump up the ellipticity of the orbit and its inclination. Later on the tidal forces between the planet and the star can pull it in close, but preserve a high orbital inclination…maybe.”

Credit: NASA, JPL, Caltech