Waaaaay back in 2015 the International Astronomical Union held its General Assembly in Honolulu. I went and gave a review talk on star-planet interactions at a Focus Meeting.
One nice thing (in the long run) about these Focus Meetings is that they generate proceedings that get published. It’s sort of old-fashioned now, but it’s still nice to see these proceedings because they often contain things not in refereed papers: preliminary, unrefereed results that turn out to be important later, and overarching but concise syntheses of lots of work in a way that is useful for understanding but not really appropriate for a refereed article on novel research.
(I write “in the long run” above because having to actually write the proceedings can be a pain, and because they seem to take fooorrrreeevvvveeeerrrr to finally get published.)
Well, I was going through my CV for my end-of-sabbatical report (7 more days!) when I remembered that Brendan Miller and I put in a proceedings for the 2015 summer meeting! Whatever happened to it? Turns out it was published a while ago and somehow I missed it (which is weird because I have a copy of that book on my shelf…)
Anyway, our contribution is now belatedly on the arXiv. Here’s what’s in it:
We really want to study the magnetic fields of exoplanets. It seems sort of hopeless—magnetic fields don’t have that much energy and it’s hard enough to figure out a planet’s mass, much less this little detail—but there is hope.
One hope is that close-in exoplanets will have their magnetic fields interact with their host star’s magnetic fields, causing magnetic activity on the star that we can detect in the calcium H&K lines. There had been suggestions in the literature that this was happening, as magnetic “hot-spots” beneath close-in planets rotated in and out of view, but follow up of those systems found the effect to be difficult to reproduce. I think it was noise.
Another hope was that there was an overall increase in the level of activity in stars with close-in exoplanets. If you took a sample of stars with and without close-in planets, were the ones with close-in planets more active? Turns out that’s hard, because there are lots of biases in the way we detect close-in planets (via transit) that might make it more or less likely to find them around active stars in the first place. Brendan and I wrote a paper where we looked at the evidence (and gathered some ourselves) and concluded there’s no signal to we can dig out of all of the noise.
But there are clear cases where there is star-planet interaction, just by another route: close-in, very massive planets seem to be able to spin up their stars, which makes them more magnetically active. That probably drives the small amount of correlation we do see.
One thing we did not have time or space to touch on in the article was the one way that magnetic fields do seem to have been detected, via bow shocks., which is a shame but was fortunately covered later in the session.
There is one more bit in the paper that has been dribbling out slowly over the past few years, too. One of my earliest interesting papers was announcing the discovery of the first really good Jupiter analog HD 154345 b. It’s around a G star, has about an 8 year circular orbit, and is around one Jupiter mass.
One gotcha is that the planet has the same orbital period (and phase!) as the star’s magnetic activity cycle. That’s not too surprising: stars’ cycles tend to be around 10 years, and so some will inevitably have planets at similar periods. The phase matchup is a further inevitable coincidence. After all, our stablest stars, like σ Draconis, have big strong magnetic activity cycles and those don’t create phantom planets in our radial velocity measurements.
Or so we argued in the paper. Well, since then, the coincidence between activity and RV has been getting better and better, and as early as seven years ago I had been conceding that this might be a rare, strong activity-RV coincidence. I mentioned it in at the first EPRV Workshop (you can see it in the slides here) and again at the 20th anniversary of 51 Peg conference in Haute Provence.
Well, here it is again, in our review:
This is one of those cases where I really should get this into a refereed paper, but I’m busy, and more data will make the case stronger, and retractions are hard to get motivated to write. Anyway, this has been out there for a while in unrefereed form (and actually disputed! though I still think the planet is probably wrong) but I hope to get it properly written up this fall.
Anyway, that’s the news from Lake Wobegon, where all the planets are Earth-like, all the objects are Rosetta Stones, and all the signals are significant.