Retired a stars: The effect of stellar evolution on the mass estimates of subgiants

John Asher Johnson, Timothy D. Morton, Jason T. Wright

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


Doppler surveys have shown that the occurrence rate of Jupiter-mass planets appears to increase as a function of stellar mass. However, this result depends on the ability to accurately measure the masses of evolved stars. Recently, Lloyd called into question the masses of subgiant stars targeted by Doppler surveys. Lloyd argues that very few observable subgiants have masses greater than 1.5 M, and that most of them have masses in the range 1.0-1.2 M. To investigate this claim, we use Galactic stellar population models to generate an all-sky distribution of stars. We incorporate the effects that make massive subgiants less numerous, such as the initial mass function and differences in stellar evolution timescales. We find that these effects lead to negligibly small systematic errors in stellar mass estimates, in contrast to the ≈50% errors predicted by Lloyd. Additionally, our simulated target sample does in fact include a significant fraction of stars with masses greater than 1.5 M, primarily because the inclusion of an apparent magnitude limit results in a Malmquist-like bias toward more massive stars, in contrast to the volume-limited simulations of Lloyd. The magnitude limit shifts the mean of our simulated distribution toward higher masses and results in a relatively smaller number of evolved stars with masses in the range 1.0-1.2 M. We conclude that, within the context of our present-day understanding of stellar structure and evolution, many of the subgiants observed in Doppler surveys are indeed as massive as main-sequence A stars.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number53
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 20 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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