Skip to main content

Fun with sub-Nyquist sampling (or Aliasing as Art)

A subwoofer agitates a stream of water at 24 +/- $\epsilon$ Hz, where $\epsilon \sim 1$, while video is recorded at a frame rate of 24  Hz (i.e. sub-Nyquist). Fun ensues!



This effect is known as aliasing, which is also responsible for helicopter blades and car wheels appearing to spin backwards in films. Aliasing is also important in finding planets. We sample the radial velocity variations of stars caused by their planets using instruments such as HIRES at the Keck observatory. If we don't sample with dense enough time coverage (high enough frequency), a sub-sampled radial velocity signal can appear at a shorter or longer period. Here's an example from Wikipedia:


Imagine that the red curve is the true signal and the apparent (measured) signal is blue. You gotta mind your time-sampling! The optimal sampling is less than half the period (twice the frequency), which is known Nyquist samling.

This is what caused planet hunters (including me) to get the orbital period of 55 Cancri e wrong. Bekki Dawson and Dan Fabrycky found the correct signal at a much shorter orbital period than was previously thought. Since the planet was closer to the star, the probability that it would transit increased by a large amount (roughly a factor of 3, if memory serves). This prompted Josh Winn and collaborators to search for transits with a space telescope called MOST. And this is how the brightest transiting planetary system was discovered!

(The fuller story involves a prejudice against the existence of planetary periods less than 1 day, which caused our diagnostic periodogram plots to be plotted starting at 1. This hid the true period near 0.73 days, and drew attention to the aliased signal near 2.8 days. Other more technical details not suited for this blog are covered by Dawson & Fabrycky.)

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

An annual note to all the (NSF) haters

It's that time of year again: students have recently been notified about whether they received the prestigious NSF Graduate Student Research Fellowship. Known in the STEM community as "The NSF," the fellowship provides a student with three years of graduate school tuition and stipend, with the latter typically 5-10% above the standard institutional support for first- and second-year students. It's a sweet deal, and a real accellerant for young students to get their research career humming along smoothly because they don't need to restrict themselves to only advisors who have funding: the students fund themselves!
This is also the time of year that many a white dude executes what I call the "academic soccer flop." It looks kinda like this:


It typically sounds like this: "Congrats! Of course it's easier for you to win the NSF because you're, you know, the right demographic." Or worse: "She only won because she's Hispanic."…

Culture: Made Fresh Daily

There are two inspirations for this essay worth noting. The first is an impromptu talk I gave to the board of trustees at Thatcher School while I was visiting in October as an Anacapa Fellow. Spending time on this remarkable campus interacting with the students, faculty and staff helped solidify my notions about how culture can be intentionally created. The second source is Beam Times and Lifetimes by Sharon Tarweek, an in-depth exploration of the culture of particle physics told by an anthropologist embedded at SLAC for two decades. It's a fascinating look at the strange practices and norms that scientists take for granted.
One of the stories that scientists tell themselves, whether implicitly or explicitly, is that science exists outside of and independent of society. A corollary of this notion is that if a scientific subfield has a culture, e.g. the culture of astronomy vs. the culture of chemistry, that culture is essential rather than constructed. That is to say, scientific c…

The Bright Line is not Monotonic

The anthology of myths commonly known as America rests upon the notion that history is linear. In the past people in this country ignorantly did bad things to other people. But thanks to the passage of time, we can now "let the past to be the past," because today we live in a time when things have gotten much better. Furthermore, any problem that our society faces in the present will inevitably be solved as "the old guard" dies off and a new generation of better people takes their place. 
Of course this story isn't told so simply or explicitly. But the assumption lurks beneath the other stories we, as Americans, tell ourselves and each other. The myth certainly undergirds the notion that racism is a thing of the past, and that today we inhabit a "post-racial" world in which all people, regardless of race have equal access to betterment, dignity and happiness. We are lulled into beliving that at some point in the mid to late 1960's, a wise reveren…