With the TESS satellite observing most of the WASP planets as it surveys the sky, one can use the space-based data quality to look for “transit timing variations” in the WASP planet transits. Such TTVs — slight changes in the time of recurrence of a transit — can be caused by the gravitational perturbation of other planets in the system, and thus can reveal the presence of extra planets even when they themselves do not transit.
A new paper by Kyle Pearson, of the University of Arizona, reports evidence for TTVs in the TESS light-curves of WASP-18 and WASP-126.
Here is the TESS light-curve of WASP-18, showing the transits of the known planet WASP-18b:
And here are possible changes in the transit times, varying systematically with a 2.1-day period (red line):
Here now is the TESS light-curve of WASP-126, showing transits of WASP-126b:
And here are possible TTVs varying systematically with a period of 7.7 days (red line):
The evidence is not yet sufficiently water-tight to be sure of the existence of the extra planets, without adding in further data, but this study points to lots of similar work using TESS data as it continues its multi-year survey.
Closely orbiting hot-Jupiter exoplanets are likely to be spiralling inwards towards their host star as a result of tidal interactions with the star. A new paper by Maciejewski et al reports a possible detection of this orbital-period decay in WASP-12b.
The authors have acquired 31 new transit light-curves over four years, and detect a trend under which the latest transits occur about a minute early compared to an unchanging ephemeris.
Transits of WASP-12b. O–C is the observed time compared to that calculated from an unchanging orbital period. The time (x-axis) is given in both a count of days (BJD) and a count of transits.
This is the most convincing claim yet of a changing orbital period in a hot Jupiter. Whether it shows the spiral infall, though, is less clear. As the authors explain, other tidal interactions between the star and the planet, such as that causing apsidal precession, could account for the effect. Further, in close binary stars there are known to be similar period changes on decade-long timescales that are not fully understood, but which might be caused by Solar-like magnetic cycles on the star.
One suggestion that this is not spiral infall comes from the deduced value of the tidal quality factor, Q, which the authors calculate as 2.5 x 105. This is lower than other estimates of Q as nearer 107.
The way to settle the issue will be to accumulate more data over a longer timespan until the case for spiral infall becomes overwhelming. It will thus be important to continue monitoring WASP-12b, and the other short-period hot Jupiters, over the coming decades.