Radial Velocities as an Exoplanet Discovery Method
The precise radial velocity technique is a cornerstone of exoplanetary astronomy. Astronomers measure Doppler shifts in the star’s spectral features, which track the line-of-sight gravitational accelerations of a star caused by the planets orbiting it. The method has its roots in binary star astronomy, and exoplanet detection represents the low-companion-mass limit of that application. This limit requires control of several effects of much greater magnitude than the signal sought: the motion of the telescope must be subtracted, the instrument must be calibrated, and spurious Doppler shift “jitter” must be mitigated or corrected. Two primary forms of instrumental calibration are the stable spectrograph and absorption cell methods, the former being the path taken for the next generation of spectrographs. Spurious, apparent Doppler shifts due to non-center-of-mass motion (jitter) can be the result of stellar magnetic activity or photospheric motions and granulation. Several avoidance, mitigation, and correction strategies exist, including careful analysis of line shapes and radial velocity wavelength dependence.
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