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Demographic Studies of Extrasolar Planets


Morton, Timothy Davies (2014) Demographic Studies of Extrasolar Planets. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology.


Uncovering the demographics of extrasolar planets is crucial to understanding the processes of their formation and evolution. In this thesis, we present four studies that contribute to this end, three of which relate to NASA's Kepler mission, which has revolutionized the field of exoplanets in the last few years.

In the pre-Kepler study, we investigate a sample of exoplanet spin-orbit measurements---measurements of the inclination of a planet's orbit relative to the spin axis of its host star---to determine whether a dominant planet migration channel can be identified, and at what confidence. Applying methods of Bayesian model comparison to distinguish between the predictions of several different migration models, we find that the data strongly favor a two-mode migration scenario combining planet-planet scattering and disk migration over a single-mode Kozai migration scenario. While we test only the predictions of particular Kozai and scattering migration models in this work, these methods may be used to test the predictions of any other spin-orbit misaligning mechanism.

We then present two studies addressing astrophysical false positives in Kepler data. The Kepler mission has identified thousands of transiting planet candidates, and only relatively few have yet been dynamically confirmed as bona fide planets, with only a handful more even conceivably amenable to future dynamical confirmation. As a result, the ability to draw detailed conclusions about the diversity of exoplanet systems from Kepler detections relies critically on understanding the probability that any individual candidate might be a false positive. We show that a typical a priori false positive probability for a well-vetted Kepler candidate is only about 5-10%, enabling confidence in demographic studies that treat candidates as true planets. We also present a detailed procedure that can be used to securely and efficiently validate any individual transit candidate using detailed information of the signal's shape as well as follow-up observations, if available.

Finally, we calculate an empirical, non-parametric estimate of the shape of the radius distribution of small planets with periods less than 90 days orbiting cool (less than 4000K) dwarf stars in the Kepler catalog. This effort reveals several notable features of the distribution, in particular a maximum in the radius function around 1-1.25 Earth radii and a steep drop-off in the distribution larger than 2 Earth radii. Even more importantly, the methods presented in this work can be applied to a broader subsample of Kepler targets to understand how the radius function of planets changes across different types of host stars.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:exoplanet, Kepler, statistics
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy
Major Option:Astrophysics
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Johnson, John A.
Group:Astronomy Department
Thesis Committee:
  • Hillenbrand, Lynne A. (chair)
  • Scoville, Nicholas Zabriskie
  • Brown, Michael E.
  • Hirata, Christopher M.
  • Johnson, John A.
Defense Date:30 October 2013
Non-Caltech Author Email:tim.morton (AT)
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:11082013-132329970
Persistent URL:
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription adapted for ch.4 adapted for ch.5 adapted for ch.6
Morton, Timothy Davies0000-0002-8537-5711
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:8024
Deposited By: Timothy Morton
Deposited On:20 Nov 2013 18:10
Last Modified:30 May 2023 22:27

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