Which radial velocity exoplanets have undetected outer companions?

Timothy J. Rodigas, Philip M. Hinz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


The observed radial velocity (RV) eccentricity distribution for extrasolar planets in single-planet systems shows that a significant fraction of planets are eccentric (e > 0.1). However, an RV planet's eccentricity, which comes from the Keplerian fitting, can be biased by low signal-to-noise ratio and poor sampling. Here, we investigate the effects on eccentricity produced by undetected outer companions. We have carried out Monte Carlo simulations of mock RV data to understand this effect and predict its impact on the observed distribution. We first quantify the statistical bias of known RV planets' eccentricities produced by undetected zero-eccentricity wide-separation companions and show that this effect alone cannot explain the observed distribution. We then modify the simulations to consist of two populations, one of zero-eccentricity planets in double-planet systems and the other of single planets drawn from an eccentric distribution. Our simulations show that a good fit to the observed distribution is obtained with 45% zero-eccentricity double planets and 55% single eccentric planets. Assuming that our two simulated populations of planets are a good approximation for the true RV population, matching the observed distribution allows us to determine the probability that a known RV planet's orbital eccentricity has been biased by an undetected wide-separation companion. Averaged over eccentricity we calculate this probability to be 4%, suggesting that a small fraction of systems may have a yet to be discovered outer companion. Our simulations show that moderately eccentric planets, with 0.1 < e < 0.3 and 0.1 < e < 0.2, have a 13% and 19% probability, respectively, of having an undetected outer companion. We encourage both high-contrast direct imaging and RV follow-up surveys of known RV planets with moderate eccentricities to test our predictions and look for previously undetected outer companions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)716-723
Number of pages8
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2009


  • Planetary systems
  • Techniques: radial velocities

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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