ESA’s Cheops satellite (the Characterising Exoplanet Satellite) started observing this year, and ESA has just put out a press release announcing its first science results. Cheops looked at transits and occultations of WASP-189b, an ultra-hot Jupiter in a polar orbit transiting a bright star.
“Only a handful of planets are known to exist around stars this hot, and this system is by far the brightest,” says Monika Lendl of the University of Geneva, Switzerland, lead author of the new study. “WASP-189b is also the brightest hot Jupiter that we can observe as it passes in front of or behind its star, making the whole system really intriguing.”
At a visual magnitude of V = 6.6, WASP-189 is the brightest host star of all the WASP planets. The discovery of the transiting hot Jupiter was announced in 2018 in a paper led by David Anderson. The exceptional nature of WASP-189 thus made it a prime target for Cheops.
The Cheops study shows that: “the star itself is interesting – it’s not perfectly round, but larger and cooler at its equator than at the poles, making the poles of the star appear brighter,” says Dr Lendl. “It’s spinning around so fast that it’s being pulled outwards at its equator!”
“This first result from Cheops is hugely exciting: it is early definitive evidence that the mission is living up to its promise in terms of precision and performance,” says Kate Isaak, Cheops project scientist at ESA.
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It is fairly amazing what one can deduce about planets orbiting distant stars. A new paper by Peter Buhler et al reports constraints on the rigidity of the hot-Jupiter exoplanet HAT-P-13b.
The essential data comes from an observation of the occultation of the planet (when it passes behind the host star), as observed in infra-red light by the Spitzer Space Telescope.
If the planet’s orbit were exactly circular the occultation would occur exactly half a cycle after the transit. But this occultation is 20 minutes early. That means that the orbit is slightly elliptical, amounting to an eccentricity of 0.007 +/– 0.001, a small but non-zero value.
Most hot Jupiters are expected to have orbits which have been completely circularised by tidal forces. Thus an eccentric orbit implies either that the planet has only relatively recently moved into that orbit, or that the eccentricity is being maintained by the gravitational effects of a third body.
In this case another planet, HAT-P-13c, a 14-Jupiter-mass planet in a longer 446-day orbit, is thought to be perturbing the close-in hot Jupiter HAT-P-13b.
The extent of the perturbation then tells us about the rigidity of the hot Jupiter. Tidal forces result from the fact that gravity differs across an extended body such as a planet, and how a planet reacts to the tidal stress depends on its rigidity.
The rigidity is parametrised by the “Love number”, and the authors find that the eccentricity of HAT-P-13b’s orbit implies a Love number of 0.3. This in turn implies that the planet likely has a rocky core of about 11 Earth masses, with the rest being an extended gaseous envelope.
A new paper by Joshua Kammer et al reports observations of 5 transiting hot-Jupiter planets with the Spitzer Space Telescope. The Spitzer infra-red observations looked for the occultation of the planet, when it passes behind its host star. By comparing the observed emission in and out of the occultation one can deduce the temperature of the planet’s atmosphere.
Kammer and colleagues chose to look at 5 relatively cool hot-Jupiter planets (ones around cooler stars, or orbiting further from the star), with expected temperatures in the range 900 to 1200 K. Of the 5, four were WASP planets (WASP-6b, WASP-10b, WASP-39b and WASP-67b).
The point of looking at cooler planets is that the ratio of the light in two Spitzer pass-bands, 3.6 and 4.5 microns, is expected to depend on the metallicity (the abundance of elements heavier than hydrogen and helium) of the planet’s atmosphere.
The authors found a tentative but possible relation between that ratio and the mass of the planet.
The plot shows the brightness ratio in the two pass-bands against planet mass. The named planets are also colour-coded by the planet’s temperature (where the top bar shows the scale in Kelvin). There is a possible trend to a higher ratio at higher masses (WASP-8b is a clear outlier to the trend, and the authors suggest that this might be because it is in a highly eccentric orbit).
Kammer et al say that “If this trend can be confirmed, it would suggest that the shape of these planets’ emission spectra depends primarily on their masses, consistent with the hypothesis that lower-mass planets are more likely to have metal-rich atmospheres.”