robust fitting, intelligence, and stellar systems

In the morning I talked to Ben Weaver (NYU) about performing robust (as in "robust statistics") fitting of binary-star radial-velocity functions to the radial velocity measurements of the individual exposures from the APOGEE spectroscopy. The goal is to identify radial-velocity outliers and improve APOGEE data analysis, but we might make a few discoveries along the way, a la what's implied by this paper.

At lunch-time I met up with Bruce Knuteson (Kn-X) who is starting a company (see here) that uses a clever but simple economic model to obtain true information from untrusted and anonymous sources. He asked me about possible uses in astrophysics. He also asked me if I know anyone in US intelligence. I don't!

In the afternoon, Tim Morton (Princeton) came up to discuss things related to multiple-star and exoplanet systems. One of the things we discussed is how to parameterize or build pdfs over planetary systems, which can have very different numbers of elements and parameters. One option is to classify systems into classes, and build a model of each (implicitly qualitatively different) class and then model the full distribution as a mixture of classes. Another is to model the "biggest" or "most important" planet first; in this case we build a model of the pdf over the "most important planet" and then deal with the rest of the planets later. Another is to say that every single star has a huge number of planets (like thousands or infinity) and just most of them are unobservable. Then the model is over the an (effectively) infinite-dimensional vector for every system (most elements of which describe planets that are unobservable or will not be observed any time soon).

This infinite-planet descriptor sounds insane, but there are lots of tractable models like this in the world of non-parametrics. And the Solar System certainly suggests that most stars probably do have many thousands of planets (at least). You can guess from this discussion where we are leaning. Everything we figure out about planet systems applies to stellar systems too.

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