Tag Archives: WASP-19b

Gaia detects transits of WASP exoplanets

ESA’s Gaia satellite is a €740-million mission to map a billion stars in our galaxy. By observing repeatedly with unprecedented astrometric precision it is measuring the parallaxes, and thus the distances, of hundreds of millions of stars, and so mapping out the 3-D structure of our galaxy.

Gaia can detect exoplanets in two ways, first by astrometry (measuring the position of a star), so detecting the wobble in the star’s location caused by an orbiting massive planet, and secondly by the transit method, detecting the dip in the light of a star caused by a transiting planet.

The Gaia team have just announced the first detections of exoplanet transits, by looking at the accumulated Gaia data on two already-known WASP planets.

ESA's Gaia satellite detects its first exoplanet transit

The plot shows a year’s worth of Gaia data of the star WASP-19, folded on the 0.79-day orbital period of the planet WASP-19b (the three different panels are the star’s magnitude in three different colours). The coverage is sparse — it is designed for astrometric measurements, not for recording lightcurves — but one observation was made in-transit, demonstrating that Gaia can indeed detect exoplanet transits.

The ESA/Gaia team have also looked at the data on WASP-98, and again detect the transit of WASP-98b.

ESA's Gaia satellite detects exoplanet transit of WASP-98b

HATS-18b and short-period hot Jupiters

Congratulations to the HATSouth project for the discovery of HATS-18b, a hot Jupiter with the very short orbital period of only 0.84 days. The other known hot Jupiters with periods below 1 day are all WASP-South discoveries (WASP-19b at 0.79 d, WASP-43b at 0.81 d, WASP-103b at 0.93 d and WASP-18b at 0.94 d).

Since such short-period systems are the easiest to find in transit surveys (owing to lots of transits!) they must be very rare, presumably because tidal forces are causing the orbits to decay, so that the planets spiral into their stars on relatively short timescales of tens of millions of years.

The HATSouth team note that the rotational periods of the host stars of HATS-18b and WASP-19b are much shorter than expected given the ages of the stars, and suggest that the stars have been spun up by the same tidal interaction that caused the planet’s orbit to decay. By modelling the in-spiral process Penev et al arrive at constraints on the “quality factor” Q* of the star. This is a measure of how efficient the star is at dissipating the tidal energy resulting from the planet’s gravitational tug on the star, and this sets the timescale for the tidal decay. Penev et al argue that the log of Q* is between 6.5 and 7, one of the tightest constraints yet estimated.

Stellar tidal decay quality factor

Estimates of the tidal quality factor, from modelling the HATS-18b and WASP-19b systems. The different models use different assumptions and are explained in the text. Figure by Penev et al.

New HATSouth planets gives us at WASP a check on our methods, since we can look for them in our own data (and if we don’t see them we can ask why not). At V = 14.1, HATS-18 is fainter than any of the WASP host stars, and fainter than we would adopt as a candidate (HATSouth is optimised to get better photometry on a slightly fainter magnitude range, whereas WASP-South is optimised for a wider field). Nevertheless, 26 000 data points from WASP-South do detect the transit of HATS-18b, giving a detected signal at the 0.837-day period and its first harmonic (1.67-d) in the period search:


There is then a clear detection of the transit when the data are folded on the transit period:


This is thus the faintest detection of a planet yet by WASP-South and so is reassuring about WASP data quality.

Calculations of hot-Jupiter tidal infall

Closely orbiting hot Jupiters raise a tidal bulge on their star, just as our Moon does on Earth. Since the planet is orbiting faster than the star rotates, the tidal bulge will tend to lag behind the planet and so its gravitational attraction will pull back on the planet. The orbit of the planet is thus expected to decay, with the planet gradually spiralling inwards to destruction.

Calculating how long this will take is hard, and depends on the efficiency with which energy is dissipated in the tidal bulge of the star. This is summed up by a number called a quality factor, Q, which is, crudely, the number of orbital cycles required to dissipate energy. The higher this number the slower the decay of the planet’s orbit.

In a new paper, Reed Essick and Nevin Weinberg, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, present a detailed calculation of Q for hot Jupiters orbiting solar-like stars. They arrive at values for Q of 105 to 106, assuming a planet above half a Jupiter mass and an orbital period of less than 2 days.

Hot Jupiter orbital decay timescales

The figure shows the resulting infall timescales of all the hot Jupiters predicted to have remaining lifetimes of less than 1 Gyr. By far the smallest lifetime is that for WASP-19b, which is predicted to spiral into its star within 8 million years. This would mean that shifts in WASP-19b’s transit times would be readily detectable, with a shift accumulating to 1 minute in only 5 years.

The calculations presented here are at odds with deductions that Q must be around 107, based on explaining the current distribution of hot-Jupiter periods (e.g. Penev & Sasselov 2011), which would give a much slower orbital decay. We can determine who is right by monitoring transits of WASP-19b and similar systems over the coming decade, and it will be interesting to discover who is right.

Energy recirculation in the hot Jupiter WASP-19b

A team led by Ian Wong of Caltech have announced observations of the hot Jupiters WASP-19b and HAT-P-7b, looking at infra-red light using the Spitzer Space Telescope. By observing the planets around their entire orbit they detect the transit, caused by the planet passing in front of the host star, the secondary eclipse, when the planet passes behind the star, and the “phase curve” caused by the changing visibility of the heated face of the planet.

WASP-19b Spitzer lightcurve

The figure shows the infra-red light (“heat”) of the WASP-19 system in two pass bands (3.6 microns and 4.5 microns). The middle panels are expanded to show the phase curve, while the lowest panels show the residuals about a fitted model (the red line).

By fitting all three features, the authors can constrain the temperatures of the “day time” heated face of the planet (which faces towards us near the secondary eclipse) and of the “night time” face of the planet (which faces us near transit). From there they can estimate the “recirculation”, how efficient the planet is at redistributing heat from the day-time face to the night-time face.

Such short-period planets are phase-locked by tidal forces, and so always present the same face to the star. Thus redistribution of heat energy requires powerful winds circling the planet.

An interesting plot by Wong et al shows the recirculation in different hot Jupiters against the albedo (the fraction of energy that is reflected).

Energy recirculation in hot Jupiters.

There appear to be two groups of hot Jupiters: ones with albedos near 0.4, such as WASP-19b, and ones with much lower albedos, such as WASP-14b and WASP-18b. So far there is no simple explanation for this difference.

Further, the recirculation efficiency also appears to be different in different systems. Wong et al suggest that the hot Jupiters experiencing the highest irradiation, such as WASP-19b, are least efficient at redistributing heat, while
longer-period, less-irradiated hot Jupiters such as HD209458b and HD189733b are better at redistribution.

Hubble study of water in hot-Jupiter atmospheres

NASA have put out a press release regarding the largest-ever study of hot-Jupiter atmospheres by the Hubble Space Telescope and the Spitzer Space Telescope. Of the ten planets studied, six are WASP discoveries.

Clear to cloudy hot Jupiters (annotated)

The results, published in Nature, report that hot Jupiters are a diverse group that have atmospheres ranging from clear to cloudy. Strong water absorption lines are seen when the planets have a clear atmosphere, but less so when the atmospheres are dominated by clouds and hazes.


Planets such as WASP-17b and WASP-19b have clear atmospheres and show the strongest water features, whereas planets such as WASP-12b and WASP-31b are more cloudy.

The NASA press release has so far resulted in articles on over 110 news websites worldwide. The paper was lead-authored by David Sing of the University of Exeter.

NASA finds water on three WASP planets

A team using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has detected water in the atmosphere of five exoplanets. Three of these are WASP planets, WASP-12b, WASP-17b and WASP-19b. They were chosen because they orbit relatively bright stars and because they are close-in “hot Jupiter” planets with bloated and puffed-up atmospheres, the best targets for the highly demanding task of discerning molecules in those atmospheres. This study demonstrates how valuable WASP planets are for exoplanet research.

WASP-12b illustration.

An artist’s conception of WASP-12b, a hot-Jupiter planet orbiting so closely that its atmosphere is blasted by irradiation from its star

The NASA press release has been reported by websites and newspapers worldwide. It reads:

Hubble Traces Subtle Signals of Water on Hazy Worlds      Dec. 3, 2013

Using the powerful­ eye of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, two teams of scientists have found faint signatures of water in the atmospheres of five distant planets.

The presence of atmospheric water was reported previously on a few exoplanets orbiting stars beyond our solar system, but this is the first study to conclusively measure and compare the profiles and intensities of these signatures on multiple worlds.

The five planets — WASP-17b, HD209458b, WASP-12b, WASP-19b and XO-1b — orbit nearby stars. The strengths of their water signatures varied. WASP-17b, a planet with an especially puffed-up atmosphere, and HD209458b had the strongest signals. The signatures for the other three planets, WASP-12b, WASP-19b and XO-1b, also are consistent with water.

“We’re very confident that we see a water signature for multiple planets,” said Avi Mandell, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and lead author of an Astrophysical Journal paper, published today, describing the findings for WASP-12b, WASP-17b and WASP-19b. “This work really opens the door for comparing how much water is present in atmospheres on different kinds of exoplanets, for example hotter versus cooler ones.”

The studies were part of a census of exoplanet atmospheres led by L. Drake Deming of the University of Maryland in College Park. Both teams used Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 to explore the details of absorption of light through the planets’ atmospheres. The observations were made in a range of infrared wavelengths where the water signature, if present, would appear. The teams compared the shapes and intensities of the absorption profiles, and the consistency of the signatures gave them confidence they saw water. The observations demonstrate Hubble’s continuing exemplary performance in exoplanet research.

“To actually detect the atmosphere of an exoplanet is extraordinarily difficult. But we were able to pull out a very clear signal, and it is water,” said Deming, whose team reported results for HD209458b and XO-1b in a Sept. 10 paper in the same journal. Deming’s team employed a new technique with longer exposure times, which increased the sensitivity of their measurements.

The water signals were all less pronounced than expected, and the scientists suspect this is because a layer of haze or dust blankets each of the five planets. This haze can reduce the intensity of all signals from the atmosphere in the same way fog can make colors in a photograph appear muted. At the same time, haze alters the profiles of water signals and other important molecules in a distinctive way.

The five planets are hot Jupiters, massive worlds that orbit close to their host stars. The researchers were initially surprised that all five appeared to be hazy. But Deming and Mandell noted that other researchers are finding evidence of haze around exoplanets.

“These studies, combined with other Hubble observations, are showing us that there are a surprisingly large number of systems for which the signal of water is either attenuated or completely absent,” said Heather Knutson of the California Institute of Technology, a co-author on Deming’s paper. “This suggests that cloudy or hazy atmospheres may in fact be rather common for hot Jupiters.”Hubble’s high-performance Wide Field Camera 3 is one of few capable of peering into the atmospheres of exoplanets many trillions of miles away. These exceptionally challenging studies can be done only if the planets are spotted while they are passing in front of their stars. Researchers can identify the gases in a planet’s atmosphere by determining which wavelengths of the star’s light are transmitted and which are partially absorbed.