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Exoplanet Properties 1 Introduction

How do astronomers learn so much about a planet just by watching how a star wiggles around? I could lecture a couple of days and explain it, but I am not sure it would really sink in, so instead we will find out what we can about an exoplanet by following the same steps astronomers take. Here is our basic scenario: The star HD4308 is a K0 star with an apparent magnitude of 6.54. It is located in the constellation Tucana at a distance of 21.9 pc. Observations taken from the European Southern Observatory’s 3.6 meter telescope at La Sillia Observatory with the HARPS eschelle spectrograph over between September 7, 2003 and July 28, 2005 indicate that this star has a slight wobble, most likely due to a planetary companion. The radial velocity of the star for each observation is shown in figure 1. These data indicate that the orbital period of the star-planet system is 15.56 days.

Figure 1: Intermediate season of HARPS radial velocities for HD4308. The best fit of the data gives an orbital period of 15.56 days for the planet (from Udry et al. 2006. “The HARPS search for southern extra-solar planets V.” Astronomy & Astrophysics 447: 361–367)

Exoplanet Properties



Orbital Distance

The first priority is to find the average distance between the star and the planet. We can use a generalization of Kepler’s law to find this information. This general Kepler’s law states that if two objects, masses MA and MB are orbiting eachother than their orbital period (P ), measured in years and average distance (a) between the star and planet, measured in astronomical units, will follow the equation M A + MB = a3 . P2 (1)

Unfortunately it is at this point where you can get stuck. After all we don’t know the mass of the star plus the planet yet, and the period is given in days. We can get around these little problems though. 1. Convert the period to years, there are conversion factors in the appendix.

2. Find the mass of HD4308 using its spectral class. A table of properties of Main sequence stars is in the appendix.

3. Assume that the mass of the planet is negligible compared with the star. Solve for the average distance (a) between the star and planet using the equation above. We will check that this assumption is valid later.

Assuming the mass of the planet is small we have found how far apart the star and planet are. Now we can start to explore some interesting properties.



If we assume that life on other planets will depend on the presence of liquid water located on the surface of a planet as it does on Earth, then there is a limited zone around a star that can support life. This zone is called the habitable zone. Since this depends only on the amount of energy provided by the star, it varies depending on the spectral class, or mass of the star. Figure 2 shows the range of distances from different Main sequence stars in which a planet can have liquid surface water.

Exoplanet Properties


Figure 2: Habitable zone for Main sequence stars (from NASA’s Kepler mission http://kepler.nasa. gov/sci/basis/nature.html). 1. What is the range of the habitable zone for the star HD4308? .

2. Is the planet too close to the star to support liquid surface water? within the habitable zone? too far from the star to support liquid surface water?

Oh well, we still don’t even know what kind of planet it is. Let’s delve deeper.


Planetary Mass

Now we are ready to estimate the mass of this planet. We will use the principle of conservation of momentum. Basically the star and its planet exert constant tugs of equal force on each other. Since the

Exoplanet Properties


star is large it is moved at low speeds, but the planet is small, so it gets pulled around at far greater speeds. This is encapsulated in the equation M Mp 2πa M v = , (2) M + Mp P where M is the mass of the star, v is the average speed of the star in its orbit, Mp is the mass of the planet, a is the average separation between the star and planet, and P is the period of the orbit. It looks a little complicated, but we will simplify it a little. We will still assume the planet is much less massive than the star. In that case the equation simplifies to become M v = Mp 2πa . P (3)

This is more manageable, but we now run into a little complication. In order to find the mass of the planet (Mp ) we need to know the speed of the star, and we can’t find this exactly. Unfortunately we can only measure the line of sight speed of the star from Doppler shift. The star may also be moving in the plane of the sky. In essence we can only measure v sin i where i is the angle by which the orbit is inclined relative to the plane of the sky. The inclination, i, is not 0 or we wouldn’t see the Doppler shift of the star at all, but it lies somewhere between 0 and 90 degrees. If we add the inclination to our equation we get 2πa M [v sin i] = [Mp sin i] . (4) P This means we cannot uniquely find the mass of the planet, but we find Mp sin i which depends on an inclination which is between 0 and 90 degrees. The equation above, solved for Mp sin i becomes [Mp sin i] = M [v sin i] P 2πa (5)

1. Find [v sin i] using the best fit curve in figure 1. v sin i is just the difference between the maximum and minimum velocity divided by 2.

2. Convert the average distance between the star and planet (a) to kilometers using the conversion factor in the appendix.

Exoplanet Properties 3. Convert the orbital period to seconds using the conversion factor in the appendix.


4. Solve for [Mp sin i] using equation 5. Be sure to use the distance in kilometers and orbital period in seconds you found above. The masses should be in solar masses.

5. If we assume the inclination is 30 degrees, what is the mass of the planet Mp ?

6. Is [Mp sin i] the minimum or maximum mass of the planet?

7. Is the planet much less massive than the star as we have assumed?


Surface Properties

Now that you have the mass of your planet, you can learn a lot about it by comparing it to planets in our Solar System (see the appendix for properties of solar system planets). The first thing we will do is check

Exoplanet Properties


to see if it is terrestrial or jovian. A terrestrial planet could be much like Earth, while a jovian planet is composed primarily oh hydrogen and helium. We will find this by comparing masses. 1. Convert the mass of the planet to kilograms using a conversion in the appendix.

2. Check the properties of solar system planets. Which planet in our solar system has a mass most like this planet?

3. Based on the mass, is this planet more likely to be terrestrial or jovian?

4. What is the mass of this planet in Earth masses?



Finally we can try to figure out how big the planet is. The best way to measure the size of something is to observe it directly, but we cannot do that in this case. We will make assumptions about the density in order to rind the size of the planet. We will assume a terrestrial planet has an average density of 5,000 kg m−3 , while a jovian planet has an average density of 1,000 kg m−3 . 1. Use one of the equations in the appendix to find the volume of the planet around HD4308 using the mass of the planet in kilograms and an assumed density.

Exoplanet Properties 2. Assuming the planet is a perfect sphere, what is the radius of this planet in meters?



Atmospheric Retention

One way to estimate the surface gravity is to calculate the escape velocity on the surface of a planet. The escape velocity is the speed you would have to achieve in order to escape from the gravitational influence of the planet. The higher the escape velocity, the higher the surface gravity and the more energy it takes to overcome it. Escape velocity depends on both the mass and radius of a planet. The escape velocity (vesc ) in meters per second is given by the expression vesc = 2GM , r (6)

where M is the mass of the planet in kilograms, r is the radius of the planet in meters, and G is the constant 6.7 × 10−11 m3 kg−1 s−2 . 1. Find the escape velocity in meters per second using equation 6.

The atmosphere of a planet can escape if the molecules of gas are moving faster than the escape velocity. To figure out how fast the molecules are moving you need to know the temperature of the atmosphere. A planet is heated by its star, and radiates that heat away into space. In thermal equilibrium the rate of heating by the star is equal to the heat radiated away by the planet. If this is the case, the planet’s temperature is given by the equation Tp = T (1 − A)1/4 R , 2a (7)

where Tp is the temperature of the planet, T is the surface temperature of the star, A is the albedo, R is the radius of the star, and a is the average distance between the planet and the star.

Exoplanet Properties


2. Convert the radius of the K0 star given in the table in the appendix to kilometers using the conversion factors in the appendix.

3. Based on the planets in our Solar System, pick a reasonable albedo (A) for this new planet. What does your group choose?

4. Calculate the planet’s temperature using equation 7.

The thermal speed of a molecule at a temperature T is given by the expression vth = 2kB T , m (8)

where kB is the Boltzmann constant (1.38 × 10−23 m2 kg s−2 K−1 ), m is the mass of the molecule, and vth is the average thermal speed of the molecules. 5. Use equation 8 above to find the thermal speed for a hydrogen molecule of mass 3.32 × 10−27 kg. Assume the equilibrium temperature for the planet you found earlier.

Exoplanet Properties


6. Is this velocity less than the escape velocity? In other words will hydrogen molecules remain in the atmosphere of this planet, or escape into space?



Do you think this planet is likely to support life? In the space below indicate why this planet may or may not support life and if this planet would be a good candidate planet for a robotic exploration mission.

Exoplanet Properties



Main sequence star properties
Class O2 O5 B0 B5 A0 A5 F0 F5 G0 G2 G5 K0 K5 M0 M5 M8 Radius R/R 16 14 5.7 3.7 2.3 1.8 1.5 1.2 1.05 1.0 0.98 0.89 0.75 0.64 0.36 0.15 Mass M/M 158 58 16 5.4 2.6 1.9 1.6 1.35 1.08 1.0 0.95 0.83 0.62 0.47 0.25 0.10 Luminosity L/L 2,000,000 800,000 16,000 750 63 24 9.0 4.0 1.45 1.0 0.70 0.36 0.18 0.075 0.013 0.0008 Temperature K 54,000 46,000 29,000 15,200 9,600 8,700 7,200 6,400 6,000 5,700 5,500 5,150 4,450 3,850 3,200 2,500 Example Sanduleak -71 51 Sanduleak -66 41 Phi1 Orionis Pi Andromedae A Vega Beta Pictoris Gamma Virginis Eta Arietis Beta Comae Berenices Sun Alpha Mensae 70 Ophiuchi A 61 Cygni A Gliese 185 EZ Aquarii A Van Biesbroeck’s star

Properties of Main sequence stars (from Wikipedia


Solar System Data
Planet Mercury Venus Earth Mars Jupiter Saturn Uranus Neptune Radius km 2,440 6,052 6,378 3,394 71,492 60,268 25,559 24,766 Mass kg 3.30 × 1023 4.87 × 1024 5.97 × 1024 6.42 × 1023 1.90 × 1027 5.68 × 1026 8.68 × 1025 1.02 × 1026 Mean Density kg m−3 5,430 5,240 5,520 3,930 1,330 690 1,270 1,640 Escape Velocity km s−1 4.2 10.4 11.2 5.0 60 36 21 24 Albedo 0.119 0.75 0.29 0.25 0.343 0.342 0.300 0.290

Taken from Eric Chaisson & Steve McMillan. Astronomy Today Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2005 and Wikipedia’s article on Bond Albedo (


Conversion Factors
• 1 year = 365.25 days = 3.16 × 107 seconds. • 1 M = 1.99 × 1030 kg = 1,050 MJupiter = 333,000 MEarth . • 1 MJupiter = 1.90 × 1027 kg. • 1 MEarth = 5.98 × 1024 kg.

Exoplanet Properties • 1 AU = 1.496 × 108 km. • 1 R = 6.955 × 105 km. • 1 km = 1000 m.



Other Equations
• The mass M of an object with volume V and density ρ is given by the expression M = ρV. • The volume V of a sphere of radius r is 4 V = πr3 . 3 (10) (9)

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