Discovered exoplanets each year with discovery methods as of 5 March 2020
Size comparison of Jupiter and the exoplanet TrES-3b. TrES-3b has an orbital period of only 31 hours and is classified as a Hot Jupiter for being large and close to its star, making it one of the easiest planets to detect by the transit method.
An exoplanet or extrasolar planet is a planet outside the Solar System. The first possible evidence of an exoplanet was noted in 1917, but was not recognized as such. The first confirmation of detection occurred in 1992. This was followed by the confirmation of a different planet, originally detected in 1988. As of 1 December 2020, there are 4,379 confirmed exoplanets in 3,237 systems, with 717 systems having more than one planet.
The discovery of exoplanets has intensified interest in the search for extraterrestrial life. There is special interest in planets that orbit in a star's habitable zone, where it is possible for liquid water, a prerequisite for life on Earth, to exist on the surface. The study of planetary habitability also considers a wide range of other factors in determining the suitability of a planet for hosting life.
Rogue planets do not orbit any star. Such objects are considered as a separate category of planet, especially if they are gas giants, which are often counted as sub-brown dwarfs. The rogue planets in the Milky Way possibly number in the billions or more.
Objects with true masses below the limiting mass for thermonuclear fusion of deuterium (currently calculated to be 13 Jupiter masses for objects of solar metallicity) that orbit stars or stellar remnants are "planets" (no matter how they formed). The minimum mass/size required for an extrasolar object to be considered a planet should be the same as that used in the Solar System.
Substellar objects with true masses above the limiting mass for thermonuclear fusion of deuterium are "brown dwarfs", no matter how they formed or where they are located.
Free-floating objects in young star clusters with masses below the limiting mass for thermonuclear fusion of deuterium are not "planets", but are "sub-brown dwarfs" (or whatever name is most appropriate).
This working definition was amended by the IAU's Commission F2: Exoplanets and the Solar System in August 2018. The official working definition of an exoplanet is now as follows:
Objects with true masses below the limiting mass for thermonuclear fusion of deuterium (currently calculated to be 13 Jupiter masses for objects of solar metallicity) that orbit stars, brown dwarfs or stellar remnants and that have a mass ratio with the central object below the L4/L5 instability (M/Mcentral < 2/(25+√621) are "planets" (no matter how they formed).
The minimum mass/size required for an extrasolar object to be considered a planet should be the same as that used in our Solar System.
The IAU noted that this definition could be expected to evolve as knowledge improves.
The IAU's working definition is not always used. One alternate suggestion is that planets should be distinguished from brown dwarfs on the basis of formation. It is widely thought that giant planets form through core accretion, which may sometimes produce planets with masses above the deuterium fusion threshold; massive planets of that sort may have already been observed.
Brown dwarfs form like stars from the direct gravitational collapse of clouds of gas and this formation mechanism also produces objects that are below the 13MJup limit and can be as low as 1MJup. Objects in this mass range that orbit their stars with wide separations of hundreds or thousands of AU and have large star/object mass ratios likely formed as brown dwarfs; their atmospheres would likely have a composition more similar to their host star than accretion-formed planets which would contain increased abundances of heavier elements. Most directly imaged planets as of April 2014 are massive and have wide orbits so probably represent the low-mass end of brown dwarf formation.
One study suggests that objects above 10MJup formed through gravitational instability and should not be thought of as planets.
Also, the 13-Jupiter-mass cutoff does not have precise physical significance. Deuterium fusion can occur in some objects with a mass below that cutoff. The amount of deuterium fused depends to some extent on the composition of the object. As of 2011 the Extrasolar Planets Encyclopaedia included objects up to 25 Jupiter masses, saying, "The fact that there is no special feature around 13MJup in the observed mass spectrum reinforces the choice to forget this mass limit".
As of 2016 this limit was increased to 60 Jupiter masses based on a study of mass–density relationships.
The Exoplanet Data Explorer includes objects up to 24 Jupiter masses with the advisory: "The 13 Jupiter-mass distinction by the IAU Working Group is physically unmotivated for planets with rocky cores, and observationally problematic due to the sin i ambiguity."
The NASA Exoplanet Archive includes objects with a mass (or minimum mass) equal to or less than 30 Jupiter masses.
Another criterion for separating planets and brown dwarfs, rather than deuterium fusion, formation process or location, is whether the core pressure is dominated by coulomb pressure or electron degeneracy pressure with the dividing line at around 5 Jupiter masses.
Exoplanet HIP 65426b is the first discovered planet around star HIP 65426.
The convention for designating exoplanets is an extension of the system used for designating multiple-star systems as adopted by the International Astronomical Union (IAU). For exoplanets orbiting a single star, the IAU designation is formed by taking the designated or proper name of its parent star, and adding a lower case letter. Letters are given in order of each planet's discovery around the parent star, so that the first planet discovered in a system is designated "b" (the parent star is considered to be "a") and later planets are given subsequent letters. If several planets in the same system are discovered at the same time, the closest one to the star gets the next letter, followed by the other planets in order of orbital size. A provisional IAU-sanctioned standard exists to accommodate the designation of circumbinary planets. A limited number of exoplanets have IAU-sanctioned proper names. Other naming systems exist.
History of detection
For centuries scientists, philosophers, and science fiction writers suspected that extrasolar planets existed, but there was no way of knowing whether they existed, how common they were, or how similar they might be to the planets of the Solar System. Various detection claims made in the nineteenth century were rejected by astronomers.
The first suspected scientific detection of an exoplanet occurred in 1988. Shortly afterwards, the first confirmation of detection came in 1992, with the discovery of several terrestrial-mass planets orbiting the pulsarPSR B1257+12. The first confirmation of an exoplanet orbiting a main-sequence star was made in 1995, when a giant planet was found in a four-day orbit around the nearby star 51 Pegasi. Some exoplanets have been imaged directly by telescopes, but the vast majority have been detected through indirect methods, such as the transit method and the radial-velocity method. In February 2018, researchers using the Chandra X-ray Observatory, combined with a planet detection technique called microlensing, found evidence of planets in a distant galaxy, stating "Some of these exoplanets are as (relatively) small as the moon, while others are as massive as Jupiter. Unlike Earth, most of the exoplanets are not tightly bound to stars, so they're actually wandering through space or loosely orbiting between stars. We can estimate that the number of planets in this [faraway] galaxy is more than a trillion.
This space we declare to be infinite... In it are an infinity of worlds of the same kind as our own.
In the sixteenth century, the Italian philosopher Giordano Bruno, an early supporter of the Copernican theory that Earth and other planets orbit the Sun (heliocentrism), put forward the view that the fixed stars are similar to the Sun and are likewise accompanied by planets.
In the eighteenth century, the same possibility was mentioned by Isaac Newton in the "General Scholium" that concludes his Principia. Making a comparison to the Sun's planets, he wrote "And if the fixed stars are the centres of similar systems, they will all be constructed according to a similar design and subject to the dominion of One."
As of 1 December 2020, a total of 4,379 confirmed exoplanets are listed in the Extrasolar Planets Encyclopedia, including a few that were confirmations of controversial claims from the late 1980s. The first published discovery to receive subsequent confirmation was made in 1988 by the Canadian astronomers Bruce Campbell, G. A. H. Walker, and Stephenson Yang of the University of Victoria and the University of British Columbia. Although they were cautious about claiming a planetary detection, their radial-velocity observations suggested that a planet orbits the star Gamma Cephei. Partly because the observations were at the very limits of instrumental capabilities at the time, astronomers remained skeptical for several years about this and other similar observations. It was thought some of the apparent planets might instead have been brown dwarfs, objects intermediate in mass between planets and stars. In 1990, additional observations were published that supported the existence of the planet orbiting Gamma Cephei, but subsequent work in 1992 again raised serious doubts. Finally, in 2003, improved techniques allowed the planet's existence to be confirmed.
Coronagraphic image of AB Pictoris showing a companion (bottom left), which is either a brown dwarf or a massive planet. The data was obtained on 16 March 2003 with NACO on the VLT, using a 1.4 arcsec occulting mask on top of AB Pictoris.
On 9 January 1992, radio astronomers Aleksander Wolszczan and Dale Frail announced the discovery of two planets orbiting the pulsarPSR 1257+12. This discovery was confirmed, and is generally considered to be the first definitive detection of exoplanets. Follow-up observations solidified these results, and confirmation of a third planet in 1994 revived the topic in the popular press. These pulsar planets are thought to have formed from the unusual remnants of the supernova that produced the pulsar, in a second round of planet formation, or else to be the remaining rocky cores of gas giants that somehow survived the supernova and then decayed into their current orbits.
Initially, most known exoplanets were massive planets that orbited very close to their parent stars. Astronomers were surprised by these "hot Jupiters", because theories of planetary formation had indicated that giant planets should only form at large distances from stars. But eventually more planets of other sorts were found, and it is now clear that hot Jupiters make up the minority of exoplanets. In 1999, Upsilon Andromedae became the first main-sequence star known to have multiple planets.Kepler-16 contains the first discovered planet that orbits around a binary main-sequence star system.
On 26 February 2014, NASA announced the discovery of 715 newly verified exoplanets around 305 stars by the Kepler Space Telescope. These exoplanets were checked using a statistical technique called "verification by multiplicity". Before these results, most confirmed planets were gas giants comparable in size to Jupiter or larger because they are more easily detected, but the Kepler planets are mostly between the size of Neptune and the size of Earth.
On 23 July 2015, NASA announced Kepler-452b, a near-Earth-size planet orbiting the habitable zone of a G2-type star.
On 6 September 2018, NASA discovered an exoplanet about 145 light years away from Earth in the constellation Virgo. This exoplanet, Wolf 503b, is twice the size of Earth and was discovered orbiting a type of star known as an "Orange Dwarf". Wolf 503b completes one orbit in as few as six days because it is very close to the star. Wolf 503b is the only exoplanet that large that can be found near the so-called Fulton gap. The Fulton gap, first noticed in 2017, is the observation that it is unusual to find planets within a certain mass range. Under the Fulton gap studies, this opens up a new field for astronomers, who are still studying whether planets found in the Fulton gap are gaseous or rocky.
In January 2020, scientists announced the discovery of TOI 700 d, the first Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone detected by TESS.
As of January 2020, NASA's Kepler and TESS missions had identified 4374 planetary candidates yet to be confirmed, several of them being nearly Earth-sized and located in the habitable zone, some around Sun-like stars.
Measuring the flow of gas within a protoplanetary disc allows the detection of exoplanets.
About 97% of all the confirmed exoplanets have been discovered by indirect techniques of detection, mainly by radial velocity measurements and transit monitoring techniques. Recently the techniques of singular optics have been applied in the search for exoplanets.
Formation and evolution
Planets may form within a few to tens (or more) of millions of years of their star forming.
The planets of the Solar System can only be observed in their current state, but observations of different planetary systems of varying ages allows us to observe planets at different stages of evolution. Available observations range from young proto-planetary disks where planets are still forming to planetary systems of over 10 Gyr old. When planets form in a gaseous protoplanetary disk, they accrete hydrogen/helium envelopes. These envelopes cool and contract over time and, depending on the mass of the planet, some or all of the hydrogen/helium is eventually lost to space. This means that even terrestrial planets may start off with large radii if they form early enough. An example is Kepler-51b which has only about twice the mass of Earth but is almost the size of Saturn which is a hundred times the mass of Earth. Kepler-51b is quite young at a few hundred million years old.
The Morgan-Keenan spectral classification
Artist's impression of exoplanet orbiting two stars.
Using data from Kepler, a correlation has been found between the metallicity of a star and the probability that the star host planets. Stars with higher metallicity are more likely to have planets, especially giant planets, than stars with lower metallicity.
This color–color diagram compares the colors of planets in the Solar System to exoplanet HD 189733b. The exoplanet's deep blue color is produced by silicate droplets, which scatter blue light in its atmosphere.
In 2013 the color of an exoplanet was determined for the first time. The best-fit albedo measurements of HD 189733b suggest that it is deep dark blue. Later that same year, the colors of several other exoplanets were determined, including GJ 504 b which visually has a magenta color, and Kappa Andromedae b, which if seen up close would appear reddish in color.Helium planets are expected to be white or grey in appearance.
The apparent brightness (apparent magnitude) of a planet depends on how far away the observer is, how reflective the planet is (albedo), and how much light the planet receives from its star, which depends on how far the planet is from the star and how bright the star is. So, a planet with a low albedo that is close to its star can appear brighter than a planet with high albedo that is far from the star.
The darkest known planet in terms of geometric albedo is TrES-2b, a hot Jupiter that reflects less than 1% of the light from its star, making it less reflective than coal or black acrylic paint. Hot Jupiters are expected to be quite dark due to sodium and potassium in their atmospheres but it is not known why TrES-2b is so dark—it could be due to an unknown chemical compound.
For gas giants, geometric albedo generally decreases with increasing metallicity or atmospheric temperature unless there are clouds to modify this effect. Increased cloud-column depth increases the albedo at optical wavelengths, but decreases it at some infrared wavelengths. Optical albedo increases with age, because older planets have higher cloud-column depths. Optical albedo decreases with increasing mass, because higher-mass giant planets have higher surface gravities, which produces lower cloud-column depths. Also, elliptical orbits can cause major fluctuations in atmospheric composition, which can have a significant effect.
There is more thermal emission than reflection at some near-infrared wavelengths for massive and/or young gas giants. So, although optical brightness is fully phase-dependent, this is not always the case in the near infrared.
Temperatures of gas giants reduce over time and with distance from their star. Lowering the temperature increases optical albedo even without clouds. At a sufficiently low temperature, water clouds form, which further increase optical albedo. At even lower temperatures ammonia clouds form, resulting in the highest albedos at most optical and near-infrared wavelengths.
In 2014, a magnetic field around HD 209458 b was inferred from the way hydrogen was evaporating from the planet. It is the first (indirect) detection of a magnetic field on an exoplanet. The magnetic field is estimated to be about one tenth as strong as Jupiter's.
Exoplanets magnetic fields may be detectable by their auroralradio emissions with sensitive enough radio telescopes such as LOFAR. The radio emissions could enable determination of the rotation rate of the interior of an exoplanet, and may yield a more accurate way to measure exoplanet rotation than by examining the motion of clouds.
Earth's magnetic field results from its flowing liquid metallic core, but in massive super-Earths with high pressure, different compounds may form which do not match those created under terrestrial conditions. Compounds may form with greater viscosities and high melting temperatures which could prevent the interiors from separating into different layers and so result in undifferentiated coreless mantles. Forms of magnesium oxide such as MgSi3O12 could be a liquid metal at the pressures and temperatures found in super-Earths and could generate a magnetic field in the mantles of super-Earths.
Hot Jupiters have been observed to have a larger radius than expected. This could be caused by the interaction between the stellar wind and the planet's magnetosphere creating an electric current through the planet that heats it up causing it to expand. The more magnetically active a star is the greater the stellar wind and the larger the electric current leading to more heating and expansion of the planet. This theory matches the observation that stellar activity is correlated with inflated planetary radii.
Although scientists previously announced that the magnetic fields of close-in exoplanets may cause increased stellar flares and starspots on their host stars, in 2019 this claim was demonstrated to be false in the HD 189733 system. The failure to detect "star-planet interactions" in the well-studied HD 189733 system calls other related claims of the effect into question.
In 2019 the strength of the surface magnetic fields of 4 hot Jupiters were estimated and ranged between 20 and 120 gauss compared to Jupiter's surface magnetic field of 4.3 gauss.
In 2007, two independent teams of researchers came to opposing conclusions about the likelihood of plate tectonics on larger super-Earths with one team saying that plate tectonics would be episodic or stagnant and the other team saying that plate tectonics is very likely on super-Earths even if the planet is dry.
If super-Earths have more than 80 times as much water as Earth then they become ocean planets with all land completely submerged. However, if there is less water than this limit, then the deep water cycle will move enough water between the oceans and mantle to allow continents to exist.
Large surface temperature variations on 55 Cancri e have been attributed to possible volcanic activity releasing large clouds of dust which blanket the planet and block thermal emissions.
The brightness of optical images of Fomalhaut b could be due to starlight reflecting off a circumplanetary ring system with a radius between 20 and 40 times that of Jupiter's radius, about the size of the orbits of the Galilean moons.
The rings of the Solar System's gas giants are aligned with their planet's equator. However, for exoplanets that orbit close to their star, tidal forces from the star would lead to the outermost rings of a planet being aligned with the planet's orbital plane around the star. A planet's innermost rings would still be aligned with the planet's equator so that if the planet has a tilted rotational axis, then the different alignments between the inner and outer rings would create a warped ring system.
Clear versus cloudy atmospheres on two exoplanets.
Atmospheres have been detected around several exoplanets. The first to be observed was HD 209458 b in 2001.
In May 2017, glints of light from Earth, seen as twinkling from an orbiting satellite a million miles away, were found to be reflected light from ice crystals in the atmosphere. The technology used to determine this may be useful in studying the atmospheres of distant worlds, including those of exoplanets.
KIC 12557548 b is a small rocky planet, very close to its star, that is evaporating and leaving a trailing tail of cloud and dust like a comet. The dust could be ash erupting from volcanos and escaping due to the small planet's low surface-gravity, or it could be from metals that are vaporized by the high temperatures of being so close to the star with the metal vapor then condensing into dust.
In June 2015, scientists reported that the atmosphere of GJ 436 b was evaporating, resulting in a giant cloud around the planet and, due to radiation from the host star, a long trailing tail 14 million km (9 million mi) long.
Tidally locked planets in a 1:1 spin-orbit resonance would have their star always shining directly overhead on one spot which would be hot with the opposite hemisphere receiving no light and being freezing cold. Such a planet could resemble an eyeball with the hotspot being the pupil. Planets with an eccentric orbit could be locked in other resonances. 3:2 and 5:2 resonances would result in a double-eyeball pattern with hotspots in both eastern and western hemispheres. Planets with both an eccentric orbit and a tilted axis of rotation would have more complicated insolation patterns.
As more planets are discovered, the field of exoplanetology continues to grow into a deeper study of extrasolar worlds, and will ultimately tackle the prospect of life on planets beyond the Solar System. At cosmic distances, life can only be detected if it is developed at a planetary scale and strongly modified the planetary environment, in such a way that the modifications cannot be explained by classical physico-chemical processes (out of equilibrium processes). For example, molecular oxygen (O 2) in the atmosphere of Earth is a result of photosynthesis by living plants and many kinds of microorganisms, so it can be used as an indication of life on exoplanets, although small amounts of oxygen could also be produced by non-biological means. Furthermore, a potentially habitable planet must orbit a stable star at a distance within which planetary-mass objects with sufficient atmospheric pressure can support liquid water at their surfaces.
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