Here’s the latest update on the changes in the orbital period of WASP-12b, from a new paper by Samuel Yee et al.
The times of transit are getting earlier, which means that the period is decreasing slightly. By also considering the times of occultation (when the planet passes behind the star), and also the radial-velocity measurements of the system, the authors deduce that the changes are not the effect of some other planet, but are a real decay in the orbit of WASP-12b. This is expected to occur as a result of tidal interactions between the planet and its host star.
One notable conclusion is that the rate of period decay in WASP-12b is much faster than that in WASP-19b, which shows no detectable period change yet, despite it being an even shorter-period hot Jupiter, which should increase tidal interactions. Yee et al suggest that the difference could arise if the host star WASP-12 is a sub-giant star, whereas WASP-19 is not.
The TESS mission will survey the entire sky for new transiting exoplanets, and as a by-product will produce space-quality lightcurves of all the WASP exoplanet systems. The first such paper has just appeared on arXiv, where Avi Shporer et al report on the TESS lightcurve of WASP-18.
WASP-18b is the most massive planet found by WASP, a 12-Jupiter-mass planet in a very tight orbit lasting only 0.94 days. This means it has the strongest planet–star tidal interaction of any known planetary system, such that the planet’s gravity gives rise to large tidal bulges on the host star. Here are the TESS data folded on the orbital cycle:
The out-of-transit data are clearly not flat (shown on a larger scale in the middle panel), and show the “ellipsoidal modulation” caused by the tidal bulges on the star. The heated face of the planet is also eclipsed by the star at phase 0.5, producing a secondary eclipse.
By analysing the lightcurve the authors conclude that very little heat is being redistributed from the heated face of the planet. Strong winds could carry heat to the un-irradiated cooler hemisphere, but there is little sign of this in the data.
So far the results of the analysis are in line with theoretical expectations, though the work points to the potential for similar analyses of other previously-known exoplanet systems.
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.