Alpha Centauri

Planet Detectability in the Alpha Centauri System

By Keith Cowing
Press Release
November 19, 2017
Filed under
Planet Detectability in the Alpha Centauri System
Alpha Centauri

We use more than a decade of radial velocity measurements for α Cen A, B, and Proxima Centauri from HARPS, CHIRON, and UVES to identify the Msini and orbital periods of planets that could have been detected if they existed.

At each point in a mass-period grid, we sample a simulated, Keplerian signal with the precision and cadence of existing data and assess the probability that the signal could have been produced by noise alone. Existing data places detection thresholds in the classically defined habitable zones at about Msini of 53 M⊕ for α Cen A, 8.4 M⊕ for α Cen B, and 0.47 M⊕ for Proxima Centauri.

Additionally, we examine the impact of systematic errors, or “red noise” in the data. A comparison of white- and red-noise simulations highlights quasi-periodic variability in the radial velocities that may be caused by systematic errors, photospheric velocity signals, or planetary signals. For example, the red-noise simulations show a peak above white-noise simulations at the period of Proxima Centauri b. We also carry out a spectroscopic analysis of the chemical composition of the α Centauri stars.

The stars have super-solar metallicity with ratios of C/O and Mg/Si that are similar to the Sun, suggesting that any small planets in the α Cen system may be compositionally similar to our terrestrial planets. Although the small projected separation of α Cen A and B currently hampers extreme-precision radial velocity measurements, the angular separation is now increasing.

By 2019, α Cen A and B will be ideal targets for renewed Doppler planet surveys.

Lily L. Zhao, Debra A. Fischer, John M. Brewer, Matt Giguere, Bárbara Rojas-Ayala
(Submitted on 16 Nov 2017)

Comments: 16 pages, 7 figures, data provided in appendix. Accepted for publication in ApJ
Subjects: Earth and Planetary Astrophysics (astro-ph.EP)
Cite as: arXiv:1711.06320 [astro-ph.EP] (or arXiv:1711.06320v1 [astro-ph.EP] for this version)
Submission history
From: Lily Zhao
[v1] Thu, 16 Nov 2017 21:14:08 GMT (481kb,D)

Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA Space Station Payload manager/space biologist, Away Teams, Journalist, Lapsed climber, Synaesthete, Na’Vi-Jedi-Freman-Buddhist-mix, ASL, Devon Island and Everest Base Camp veteran, (he/him) 🖖🏻