Published in Astronomy and Astrophysics, Volume 480, Issue 1, March 1, 2008, pages 1-10.
NOTE: At the time of publication, the author D.S. Mitchell was not yet affiliated with Cal Poly.
Context. Since 1999, we have been conducting a radial velocity survey of 179 K giants using the Coudé Auxiliary Telescope at UCO/Lick observatory. At present ∼20−100 measurements have been collected per star with a precision of 5 to 8 m s−1. Of the stars monitored, 145 (80%) show radial velocity (RV) variations at a level >20 m s−1, of which 43 exhibit significant periodicities.
Aims. Our aim is to investigate possible mechanism(s) that cause these observed RV variations. We intend to test whether these variations are intrinsic in nature, or possibly induced by companions, or both. In addition, we aim to characterise the parameters of these companions.
Methods. A relation between log g and the amplitude of the RV variations is investigated for all stars in the sample. Furthermore, the hypothesis that all periodic RV variations are caused by companions is investigated by comparing their inferred orbital statistics with the statistics of companions around main sequence F, G, and K dwarfs.
Results. A strong relation is found between the amplitude of the RV variations and log g in K giant stars, as suggested earlier by Hatzes & Cochran (1998). However, most of the stars exhibiting periodic variations are located above this relation. These RV variations can be split in a periodic component which is not correlated with log g and a random residual part which does correlate with log g. Compared to main-sequence dwarf stars, K giants frequently exhibit periodic RV variations. Interpreting these RV variations as being caused by companions, the orbital parameters are different from the companions orbiting dwarfs.
Conclusions. Intrinsic mechanisms play an important role in producing RV variations in K giants stars, as suggested by their dependence on log g. However, it appears that periodic RV variations are additional to these intrinsic variations, consistent with them being caused by companions. If indeed the majority of the periodic RV variations in K giants is interpreted as due to substellar companions, then massive planets are significantly more common around K giants than around F, G, K main-sequence stars.