Picking up on TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite), one of whose discoveries we examined yesterday, comes news of a document called the “TESS Habitable Zone Star Catalog.” The work of Cornell astronomers in collaboration with colleagues at Lehigh and Vanderbilt, the paper has just been published in Astrophysical Journal Letters (citation below), where we find 1,822 stars where TESS may find rocky terrestrial planets.
The listed 1,822 are nearby stars, bright, cool dwarfs, with temperatures roughly between 2,700 and 5,000 Kelvin, with a TESS magnitude brighter than 12 and reliable data from the Gaia Data Release 2 as to distance. Here TESS can detect 2 transits of planets that receive stellar irradiation similar to Earth’s, during the 2-year prime mission. 408 of these stars would allow TESS to detect transiting planets down to Earth size during one transit. The catalog is fine-tuned to the TESS instrumentation and mission parameters, the stars selected because they offer sufficient observing time to be able make these detections.
From the paper:
What distinguishes this catalog from previous work like HabCat (Turnbull & Tartar 2003), DASSC (Kaltenegger et al 2010) and CELESTA (Chandler, McDonald, & Kane 2016) is that the stars included here are specifically selected to have sufficient observation time by TESS for transit detection out to the Earth-equivalent orbital distance. We also use Gaia DR2 data, which allows us to exclude giant stars from the star sample and provides reliable distances for our full star sample. All the stars have been included in the TESS exoplanet Candidate Target List, ensuring that they will also have 2-minute cadence observation (provided they do not fall in TESS camera pixel gaps), providing a specific catalog for the TESS mission of stars where planets in the Habitable Zone can be detected by TESS. This data will be available to the community in the ongoing public TESS data releases.
In case you’re wondering, 137 stars in the catalog are within the continuous viewing zone of the James Webb Space Telescope, which will be able to observe them to characterize planetary atmospheres and search for biosignatures. Many more will be followed up after any TESS planet identifications by ground-based extremely large telescopes currently under construction.
Image: The TESS search space compared to that of the Kepler Mission. Credit: Zach Berta-Thompson.
The idea, then, is to help us shape our target lists for TESS by pointing to the most likely places of discovery. Meanwhile, Elisa Quintana (NASA GSFC) has been thinking about planets we can’t yet detect but which may indeed be present, using Kepler data as massaged by a mathematical model that has implications for TESS and future mission datasets. The difference is that in Quintana’s case, these are systems where we already know planets exist. The question: What other planets might yet be found in the same systems?
After all, we have to wonder what our methods may have missed. The Kepler mission has led us to believe that most stars in the galaxy have planetary companions, but around even relatively close stars, we may be seeing a subset of what’s actually there. Using the transit method, which Kepler employed to such brilliant effect, we only see the planets that move across the face of the star as seen from Earth. There could be others in the same system that do not.
Think about how rare a transit of Venus is. Even from our vantage so close to the planet, we see Venus cross the Sun only in pairs of transits eight years apart, separated by gaps of over a century. Indeed, the last transit of Venus of the 21st Century has already taken place (5,6 June, 2012); we have to wait until December of 2117 for the next. The orbit of Venus is responsible for the rarity of the phenomenon; it’s inclined by 3.4° relative to the Earth’s orbit. Exoplanetary systems are presumably not immune to such variation.
Quintana has been working as mentor with an 18 year-old high school student named Ana Humphrey, who developed the model to predict possible planets in such systems. Out of Humphrey’s work, which has garnered a a $250,000 prize in the Regeneron Science Talent Search, we learn that there may be as many as 560 ‘hidden’ planets in exoplanet systems identified by Kepler. Says Humphrey:
“I was completely fascinated by this idea of finding new planets using mass, based on data that we already had. I think it just shows that even if your data collection is complete, there’s always new questions that can be asked and can be answered.”
Image: Ana Humphrey won a $250,000 prize for calculating the potential for finding more planets outside our solar system. Credit: NASA GSFC.
Indeed, as Quintana points out, systems like Kepler-186 show a large gap that exists between the four planets close in to the star and the outer planet. Another world the size of Earth could be there on an orbit inclined enough that we would not see it. Extend this over the range of multi-planet systems found thus far and there is ample room for additional discovery. Humphrey’s model manipulates the possible space between the hypothetical planet and its neighbors, to see what worlds of varying mass could be present without disrupting their orbits.
This could come in handy for TESS, which as we saw yesterday, is already producing planetary discoveries like TOI-197. Applying the new model to the exoplanet database being assembled by TESS would allow both it and future missions to predict systems in which hidden planets might be found. Such systems might then be studied both by transits and other methods.
In examining such questions, Quintana and Humphrey are simply extending a time-honored method of planetary discovery, one that led Johann Gottfried Galle, working with calculations from Urbain Le Verrier, to discover Neptune in 1846 (and yes, Neptune was observed before this but was not known to be a planet). The mathematical calculations that produced Neptune as planet captured the imagination of François Arago, who said that Le Verrier had discovered a planet “with the point of his pen.” Thus does one world grow out of another — it was data on Uranus and the irregularities of its orbit that led to our learning the true nature of Neptune.
Remarkably, Triton was discovered a mere 17 days after the discovery of Neptune, another case of data cascade. Applying the same concept to exoplanets has been a natural progression. We can actually see only a few such worlds through direct imaging. Fine-tuning our models to fit the methods and instruments at hand maximizes the opportunity to enlarge our catalog.