Simulating extrasolar planet populations for direct imaging surveys

Eric L. Nielsen, L. M. Close, B. A. Biller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


As high contrast imaging surveys are being designed and carried out to directly detect extrasolar planets around young, nearby stars it is important to carefully evaluate the criteria for selection of target stars, as well as the predicted success of such a survey based on the sensitivity of the AO system used. We have developed a routine to simulate a large number of planets around each potential target star, and determine what fraction can be reliably (5σ) detected using an AO system's predicted or observed sensitivity curve (the maximum flux ratio between the parent star and a detectable planet as a function of projected radius). Each planet has a randomly assigned semi-major axis, mass, and eccentricity (following extrapolations of detected radial velocity planet power laws), as well as random viewing angles and orbital phase. The orbital parameters give a projected separation for each planet, while the mass is converted into a flux ratio in the appropriate bandpass of the detector using the models of Burrows et al. (2003); this allows the simulated planets to be directly evaluated against the system's sensitivity curve. Since this method requires basic parameters (age, distance, spectral type, apparent magnitude) for each target star, a target list can be constructed that maximizes the likelihood of detecting planets, or competing instrument designs can be evaluated with respect to their predicted success for a given survey. We are already employing this method to select targets for our Simultaneous Differential Imaging (SDI) surveys (Biller et al. 2004), now underway at telescopes in the northern (MMT) and southern hemispheres (VLT).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)111-118
Number of pages8
JournalProceedings of the International Astronomical Union
Issue numberC200
StatePublished - 2005


  • Stars: Planetary Systems
  • Techniques: High Angular Resolution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Nutrition and Dietetics
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Space and Planetary Science


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