Planets around low-mass stars (PALMS). IV. the outer architecture of M dwarf planetary systems

Brendan P. Bowler, Michael C. Liu, Evgenya L. Shkolnik, Motohide Tamura

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

134 Scopus citations


We present results from a high-contrast adaptive optics imaging search for giant planets and brown dwarfs (≳1 M Jup) around 122 newly identified nearby (≲40 pc) young M dwarfs. Half of our targets are younger than 135 Myr and 90% are younger than the Hyades (620 Myr). After removing 44 close stellar binaries (implying a stellar companion fraction of >35.4% ± 4.3% within 100 AU), 27 of which are new or spatially resolved for the first time, our remaining sample of 78 single M dwarfs makes this the largest imaging search for planets around young low-mass stars (0.1-0.6 M ) to date. Our H- and K-band coronagraphic observations with Keck/NIRC2 and Subaru/HiCIAO achieve typical contrasts of 12-14 mag and 9-13 mag at 1″, respectively, which correspond to limiting planet masses of 0.5-10 M Jup at 5-33 AU for 85% of our sample. We discovered four young brown dwarf companions: 1RXS J235133.3+312720 B (32 ± 6 M Jup;L0; 120 ± 20 AU), GJ 3629 B (64 M Jup; M7.5 ± 0.5; 6.5 ± 0.5 AU), 1RXS J034231.8+121622 B (35 ± 8 M Jup; L0 ± 1; 19.8 ± 0.9 AU), and 2MASS J15594729+4403595 B (43 ± 9 M Jup; M8.0 ± 0.5; 190 ± 20 AU). Over 150 candidate planets were identified; we obtained follow-up imaging for 56% of these but all are consistent with background stars. Our null detection of planets enables strong statistical constraints on the occurrence rate of long-period giant planets around single M dwarfs. We infer an upper limit (at the 95% confidence level) of 10.3% and 16.0% for 1-13 M Jup planets between 10-100 AU for hot-start and cold-start (Fortney) evolutionary models, respectively. Fewer than 6.0% (9.9%) of M dwarfs harbor massive gas giants in the 5-13 M Jup range like those orbiting HR 8799 and β Pictoris between 10-100 AU for a hot-start (cold-start) formation scenario. The frequency of brown dwarf (13-75 M Jup) companions to single M dwarfs between 10-100 AU is 2.8%. Altogether we find that giant planets, especially massive ones, are rare in the outskirts of M dwarf planetary systems. Although the first directly imaged planets were found around massive stars, there is currently no statistical evidence for a trend of giant planet frequency with stellar host mass at large separations as predicted by the disk instability model of giant planet formation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number7
JournalAstrophysical Journal, Supplement Series
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • binaries: visual
  • brown dwarfs
  • planetary systems
  • stars: individual (2MASS J15594729+4403595 GJ 3629 1RXS J034231.8+121622)
  • stars: low-mass

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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