Date of Award

5-10-2017

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Physics and Astronomy

First Advisor

Russel White

Second Advisor

Xavier Delfosse

Abstract

In this dissertation, we conduct a census and assessment of the nearest young Sun-like stars and investigate the potential for finding giant planets orbiting spotted stars using the radial velocity (RV) method at optical and near-infrared wavelengths. Based in part on new spectroscopic measurements conducted here, we have assembled a complete list of 129 young (<150 >Myr), nearby Sun-like stars and their fundamental parameters, including rotational and multiplicity information. We also provide a statistical analysis of their stellar parameters, including projected rotational velocity and inclination. Sixteen of these stars have no close companions and have low projected rotational velocities (vsini/s) that are ideal for precision RV planet searches. Seven of these rotate nearly edge-on and are ideal targets for upcoming transiting planet searches, assuming low obliquity.

We conduct precision RV planet search of 7 young Sun-like stars using the TRES spectrograph, mounted on the 1.5-m Tillinghast Reflector at the Fred L. Whipple Observatory, and with the SOPHIE spectrograph, mounted on the 1.93-m Telescope at the Observatoire de Haute Provence; we achieve a precision of 10 m/s for both. Four stars are identified as having larger RV variations that are periodic, possibly caused by an orbiting companion. However, the RV variations are correlated with asymmetries in the spectral absorption features, which instead suggests that the variations are caused by spots. Nevertheless our observations provide new independent measures of the rotation periods of these stars. Through this analysis we tentatively confirm the planetary companion around BD+20 1790 in the presence of activity. We additionally investigate the use of comparing red orders of the optical spectrum to the blue orders in order to distinguish spots from planets; we find that this method can be effective for observations that span the full wavelength range of the optical. We also investigate our detection limits at optical wavelengths and find that we are sensitive to over 90% of short period giant planets. Next, we assemble the stellar jitter measurements of our stars with previous studies of all Sun-like stars younger than 1 Gyr to investigate how stellar jitter declines with stellar age. We find that stellar jitter decreases with stellar age as t^(0.53±0.13), similar to the relationship between stellar rotation period and stellar age. The implication is that it will be diffcult to find planets orbiting stars younger than 100 Myr without using techniques that mitigate star spot noise.

Furthermore, we present a near-infrared RV search for giant planets orbiting 8 stars observed with CSHELL at the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility (IRTF). Because of the limited wavelength coverage (29 ̊A) and older (1980s) detector technology, the achieved precision of 200 m/s inhibits finding the majority of exoplanets, but is nevertheless sufficient to identify short-period brown dwarfs for these stars. We also analyze our detection limits at IR wavelengths and find that we are only sensitive to roughly 50% of short period giant planets. Finally, we present a new orbital solution for V835 Her, a spectroscopic binary with a 3 day orbital period.

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