Planet Hunters TESS finds an exciting two-planet system

We have some exciting news  – you helped discover another exciting planet system: TIC 349488688 (also known as HD 152843).  This exciting discovery follows on from our validation of the long-period planet around an evolved (old) star, TOI-813, and from our recent paper outlining the discovery of 90 Planet Hunters TESS planet candidates, which give us encouragement that there are a lot more exciting systems to be found with your help!

The new exoplanetary system, TIC 349488688,  consists of two planets that are similar in size to Neptune and Saturn in our own solar system, orbiting around a bright star that is similar to our own Sun. Planet b is around 3.4 times the size of the Earth, and takes around 12 days to complete an orbit around the star. The outer planet, planet c, is around 5.8 times the size of the Earth and has an orbital period somewhere in the range of 19 to 35 days. The paper has been published by the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (MNRAS) journal and you can find a version of it on arXiv at: https://arxiv.org/abs/2106.04603

Figure 1: the arXiv version of the published paper.

Multi-planet systems, like this one, are very exciting as they offer a wealth of information. In particular, they allow for comparative planetology: the study of two planets that necessarily formed at the same time and out of the same material, but which have evolved in different ways over time resulting in different planet properties that we observe today. Studying these two planets together, therefore allows us to test theories of planet formation and evolution.

Figure 2: TESS lightcurve showing the transits of planet b in blue and the single transit of planet c in pink.

Detection and Validation of the planets

The target was observed in Sector 25 of the TESS data only and the light curve displayed three transit events belonging to the two different planets (see Figure 2). These events were flagged on the talk discussion forums and brought to the attention of the PHT science team. Once it was flagged, we ran a large number of vetting tests to validate it as a planet. First, we made sure that the signal wasn’t caused by a jolt in the TESS satellite or a background event. Next, we ruled out ‘astrophysical’ false positives – signals caused by other astrophysical phenomena such as two stars orbiting around one another, known as an eclipsing binary.

Follow-up Observations

After ruling out a large number of astrophysical and instrumental false positive scenarios, we were confident that the signals were real! However, in order to truly confirm a planet you have to measure its mass. One of the ways to do that is to use what is known as the radial velocity method. As a planet orbits around it’s host star, the gravitational pull between the two bodies causes the star to ‘wobble’ back and forth, meaning that the star is sometimes moving towards us and sometimes moving away from us. As the star moves towards us, the light that it gives off is ‘squished’ and appears more blue, whereas when it’s moving away from us the light is ‘stretched’ and appears more red. The amount of these red and blue shift scales with the mass of the planet.   

In order to measure these red and blue shifts we used two ground-based telescopes: HARPS-N located in La Palma, Canary Islands; and EXPRES located at Lowell Observatory, Flagstaff, Arizona. These two telescopes allowed us to obtain spectroscopic observations – observations that split the light of the star up into its individual wavelengths, similar to how a prism splits light into a rainbow. Careful analysis of this split light allowed us to detect the tiny shifts from red to blue and back to red, which were caused by the two planets orbiting around TIC 349488688. We obtained enough racial velocity measurements to estimate the mass of planet b to be around 12 times more massive than the Earth, and to place an upper mass limit of 28 times the mass of the Earth on planet c.

Why is this system so interesting?

Even though there are now hundreds of confirmed multi-planet systems, the number of multi-planet systems with stars that are close enough such that we can observe and study them using ground-based telescopes remains exceedingly small. The proximity and brightness of HD 152843 is one of the properties that makes this new system stand out. To date we have been able to constrain the masses of the two planets and we are currently continuing to monitor the system to confirm them.

The masses that have already been derived suggest that both planets have low densities, and therefore are likely to have extended gaseous atmospheres. Combined with the brightness of the stars these properties offer exciting prospects for probing the atmospheres and chemical composition of both planets in the future, for example with upcoming space telescopes such as NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope. 

Last but not least this system is interesting because it was discovered by you! With this find you have once again shown that with visual vetting we are able to detect exciting planet systems that the automated computer algorithms struggled to find. Thank you to everyone who helps out with the search for distant worlds on Planet Hunters TESS and who help to further our understanding of our Galaxy. A special thanks also to Safaa Alhassan, Elisabeth M. L. Baeten, Stewart J. Bean, David M. Bundy, Vitaly Efremov, Richard Ferstenou, Brian L. Goodwin, Michelle Hof, Tony Hoffman, Alexander Hubert, Lily Lau, Sam Lee, David Maetschke, Klaus Peltsch, Cesar Rubio-Alfaro, Gary M. Wilson who are now coauthors of the discovery paper.

About Nora Eisner

Project leader of the Zooniverse citizen science project Planet Hunters TESS and PhD Student at the University of Oxford.

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