From Red Dots: “The rapidly rotating Ross 154 – by Mikko Tuomi”

Red Dots

27th July 2017
Mikko Tuomi

Depiction of high energy emission from an active red dwarf. Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/S. Wiessinger. Source :

Perhaps the least known star in the Red Dots campaign, Ross 154, is a rapidly rotating M dwarf star that shows elevated activity levels and and flares on its surface. This makes the Red Dots campaign targets more diverse than they otherwise would be – rapid rotation is typically interpreted as a sign of young age of such stellar objects as the rotation period is thought to gradually increase due to magnetic friction resulting in old M dwarfs with slow rotation rates such as Proxima Centauri whose rotation period has been estimated to be 83 days [1]. Indeed, Ross 154 has been estimated to have an age of less than one billion years [2].

The rotation of Ross 154 induces a clear photometric cycle of 2.87 days in our All Sky Automated Survey V-band observations but the brightness of the star also varies with another cycle of 740 days that we interpret to be caused by the star’s activity cycle (Fig. 1). Knowing these two “fundamental” cycles helps interpreting any and all periodicities in the radial velocity data because periodicities that are independent from both rotation and magnetic and/or activity cycles could correspond to planets orbiting the star.

Fig. 1. Likelihood-ratio periodogram of ASAS V-band photometry of Ross 154 showing evidence for a rotation period of 2.87 days and a magnetic activity cycle of 740 days.

Due to its young age, Ross 154 is an active star and its radial velocities obtained by four independent spectrographs have elevated noise levels due to the star’s active surface. These high-precision spectrographs are HARPS (3.6m telescope, La Silla, Chile), HIRES (Keck telescope, Mauna Kea, Hawaii), PFS (Magellan 6.5m telescope, Las Campanas, Chile), and UCLES (Anglo-Australian Telescope, Siding Springs Observatory, Australia) but their precision is limited by stellar activity that induces radial velocity noise of some 10-20 m/s in the data, depending on the instrument.

Keck Observatory, Maunakea, Hawaii, USA


Carnegie 6.5 meter Magellan Baade and Clay Telescopes located at Carnegie’s Las Campanas Observatory, Chile.

Magellan Planet Finder Spectrograph (PFS)

AAO Anglo Australian Telescope near Siding Spring, New South Wales, Australia

AAT UCLES spectrograph

Fig. 2. Probability distribution as a function of signal period for Ross 154. The dominant maximum corresponds to a signal caused by the star’s rotation.

Fig. 3. Probability distribution as a function of the period of a second hypothetical signal for Ross 154. The emerging maxima are probably caused by stellar differential rotation and aliasing.

Although reasonably noisy due to elevated activity in comparison to the typical radial velocity noise in M dwarf data of 2-4 m/s[3], Ross 154 appears to have a moderately significant periodicity in its velocity data set caused by the stellar rotation and the co-rotation of starspots on the stellar surface (Fig. 2).

The Ross 154 radial velocities also show hints of additional periodic signals (Fig. 3), although they are not significantly present in the data. These are likely caused by aliasing and differential rotation of the star but the interpretation is difficult because there is not enough data to rule out alternative solutions present as local probability maxima in Figs. 2 and 3. The current data set is severely limited because the most precise HARPS data set contains only eight velocities. Red Dots campaign will increase this number roughly by a factor of ten, making it possible to search for signals of planets orbiting Ross 154.

References [Sorry, no links provided.]

Anglada-Escudé G. et al. “A Terrestrial Candidate in a Temperate Orbit Around Proxima Centauri”, Nature, 536, 437 (2016).
Johns-Krull, C. M. & Valenti, J. A. “Detection of Strong Magnetic Fields on M Dwarfs”, The Astrophysical Journal, 459, L95 (1996).
Butler R. P. et al. “The LCES HIRES/Keck Precision Radial Velocity Exoplanet Survey”, The Astronomical journal, 153, 208 (2017).

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Red dots is a project to attempt detection of the nearest terrestrial planets to the Sun. Terrestrial planets in temperate orbits around nearby red dwarf stars can be more easily detected using Doppler spectroscopy, hence the name of the project.

ESO 3.6m telescope & HARPS at LaSilla, 600 km north of Santiago de Chile at an altitude of 2400 metres.

ESO/HARPS at La Silla

Centauris Alpha Beta Proxima 27, February 2012. Skatebiker