The Gemini Planet-Finding Campaign: The frequency of giant planets around debris disk stars

Zahed Wahhaj, Michael C. Liu, Eric L. Nielsen, Beth A. Biller, Thomas L. Hayward, Laird M. Close, Jared R. Males, Andrew Skemer, Christ Ftaclas, Mark Chun, Niranjan Thatte, Matthias Tecza, Evgenya L. Shkolnik, Marc Kuchner, I. Neill Reid, Elisabete M. De Gouveia Dal Pino, Silvia H.P. Alencar, Jane Gregorio-Hetem, Alan Boss, Douglas N.C. LinDouglas W. Toomey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

76 Scopus citations


We have completed a high-contrast direct imaging survey for giant planets around 57 debris disk stars as part of the Gemini NICI Planet-Finding Campaign. We achieved median H-band contrasts of 12.4 mag at 0.″5 and 14.1 mag at 1″ separation. Follow-up observations of the 66 candidates with projected separation <500 AU show that all of them are background objects. To establish statistical constraints on the underlying giant planet population based on our imaging data, we have developed a new Bayesian formalism that incorporates (1) non-detections, (2) single-epoch candidates, (3) astrometric and (4) photometric information, and (5) the possibility of multiple planets per star to constrain the planet population. Our formalism allows us to include in our analysis the previously known β Pictoris and the HR 8799 planets. Our results show at 95% confidence that <13% of debris disk stars have a ≥5 M Jup planet beyond 80 AU, and <21% of debris disk stars have a ≥3 M Jup planet outside of 40 AU, based on hot-start evolutionary models. We model the population of directly imaged planets as d 2 N/dMdam α a β, where m is planet mass and a is orbital semi-major axis (with a maximum value of a max). We find that β < -0.8 and/or α > 1.7. Likewise, we find that β < -0.8 and/or a max < 200 AU. For the case where the planet frequency rises sharply with mass (α > 1.7), this occurs because all the planets detected to date have masses above 5 M Jup, but planets of lower mass could easily have been detected by our search. If we ignore the β Pic and HR 8799 planets (should they belong to a rare and distinct group), we find that <20% of debris disk stars have a ≥3 M Jup planet beyond 10 AU, and β < -0.8 and/or α < -1.5. Likewise, β < -0.8 and/or a max < 125 AU. Our Bayesian constraints are not strong enough to reveal any dependence of the planet frequency on stellar host mass. Studies of transition disks have suggested that about 20% of stars are undergoing planet formation; our non-detections at large separations show that planets with orbital separation >40 AU and planet masses >3 M Jup do not carve the central holes in these disks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number179
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 20 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • brown dwarfs
  • circumstellar matter
  • infrared: planetary systems
  • instrumentation: adaptive optics
  • methods: statistical
  • planetary systems

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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