On the eccentricity distribution of exoplanets from radial velocity surveys

Yue Shen, Edwin L. Turner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

121 Scopus citations


We investigate the estimation of orbital parameters by least- χ2 Keplerian fits to radial velocity (RV) data using synthetic data sets. We find that while the fitted period is fairly accurate, the best-fit eccentricity and Mp sin i are systematically biased upward from the true values for low signal-to-noise ratio, K/σ ≲ 3, and a moderate number of observations, Nobs ≲ 60, leading to a suppression of the number of nearly circular orbits. Assuming intrinsic distributions of orbital parameters, we generate a large number of mock RV data sets and study the selection effect on the eccentricity distribution. We find that the overall detection efficiency only mildly decreases with eccentricity. This is because although high-eccentricity orbits are more difficult to sample, they also have larger RV amplitudes for fixed planet mass and orbital semimajor axis. Thus, the primary source of uncertainty in the eccentricity distribution comes from biases in Keplerian fits to detections with low-amplitude and/or small N obs, rather than from selection effects. Our results suggest that the abundance of low-eccentricity exoplanets may be underestimated in the current sample, and we urge caution in interpreting the eccentricity distributions of low-amplitude detections in future RV samples.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)553-559
Number of pages7
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 20 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • Planetary systems
  • Techniques: radial velocities


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