Artist conception of Kepler-22b, which is speculated to be a potentially habitable extrasolar planet.

An extrasolar planet (or exoplanet), is a planet in a planetary system outside of the Solar System. The first bit of evidence of an extrasolar planet was in 1917, although it was not recognized as such. The first scientific detection of an exoplanet was in 1988. The first time an exoplanet was confirmed was in 1992, when three planets were discovered to be orbiting a pulsar named PSR B1257+12. Around 4,000 of these planets have been discovered (4,023 planets in 3,005 systems as of April 1, 2019). 656 known extrasolar systems currently have more than one planet.

The exact amount of extrasolar planets that are in the universe is unknown, and is impossible to calculate, as it is possible that planets may exist outside of the observable universe. A 2013 study estimated that the amount of terrestrial planets in the Milky Way galaxy alone ranged from at least 17 billion, to 144 billion. There is at least 100-200 billion planets in the Milky Way galaxy alone. The estimated amount of galaxies varies between 200 billion and 2 trillion galaxies, and a galaxy, on average, has approximately 100 million stars. It is estimated that an average of 1.6 planets orbit a star system. This means that, assuming planets can form outside of the Milky Way galaxy (which there is evidence for), and depending on which figure you use, a (very rough) estimate can be made that there are around 320,000,000,000,000,000,000 to 3,200,000,000,000,000,000,000 planets in the observable universe.

HARPS (since 2004) has discovered about a hundred exoplanets, while the Kepler space telescope (since 2009) has found more than two thousand. Kepler has also detected a few thousand candidate planets (of which 11% might be false positives). In several cases, multiple planets have been observed around a star. Around 1 in 5 Sun-like stars have an "Earth-sized" planet in their habitable zones. Assuming there are around 200 billion stars in the Milky Way, theoretically, there should be roughly 11 billion potentially habitable Earth-sized planets in the Milky Way, rising to 40 billion of planets orbiting the numerous red dwarfs are included.

The least massive planet known at this time is "Draugr", also known as "PSR B1257+12 b", which has about twice the mass of the Moon. The most massive planet found is HR 2562 b, which is about 30 times the mass of Jupiter, although some may consider this a brown dwarf depending on their definition of a planet. Exoplanets have a wide variety of orbital periods. Some planets orbit so closely to their star that they take only a few hours to orbit, and there are others that are so far away that they take can take thousands of years to orbit. Some are so far out that it is difficult to tell whether they are gravitational bound to the star. For example, PSR J1719-1438 b has an orbital period of just 0.092 days (2.2 hours), while 2MASS J2126-8140 has an orbital period of approximately 900,000 years.

Almost every exoplanet detected so far is in the Milky Way. However, there is several evidence that suggests that extragalactic planets, exoplanets further away in galaxies beyond the local Milky Way galaxy (such as the Andromeda Galaxy) might exist, although it is currently almost impossible to detect these with current technology.

The closest star to us which possesses an extrasolar planet is Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the Sun, and its planet Proxima Centauri b. It is located 4.2 light years from Earth. Previously, it was thought that Alpha Centauri B had a planet, named Alpha Centauri Bb, although this planet has been highly controversial, and it was proven that the method used to find the planet did not work, although it is possible that the planet might still exist.

The discovery of exoplanets has intensified the search for extraterrestrial life. There is special interest in planets in a star's "habitable zone", in which 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.

In addition to exoplanets, there are also rogue planets, which do not orbit any star and which tend to be considered separately, especially if they are gas giants, in which case they are often counted, like WISE 0855−0714, as sub-brown dwarfs. The rogue planets in the Milky Way possibly number in the billions (or more).

Naming conventionEdit

The convention for naming extrasolar planets is an extension of the system used for designating multiple-star systems by the International Astronomical Union (IAU). For exoplanets orbiting a single star, the designation is normally formed by taking the name, or, more commonly, designation of its parent star and adding a lower case letter. The first planet discovered in a system is given the designation "b", with the parent star being considered as "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.


For centuries, scientists, philosophers, and science fiction writers had assumed that extrasolar planets existed, but there was no way of detecting them or knowing their frequency or how similar that they might be to the planets of the Solar System. Various detection claims made in the 19th century were rejected by astronomers. The first evidence of an exoplanet was noted as early as 1917, but was not recognized as such. However, the first scientific detection of an exoplanet began in 1988. Shortly afterwards, the first confirmed detection came in 1992, with the discovery of several terrestrial-mass planets orbiting the pulsar PSR 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. As of February 2018, researchers at the Chandra X-ray Observatory, combined with a planet detection technique called microlensing, found evidence that there are potentially one trillion extragalactic exoplanets, 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."

Early speculationEdit

Italian philosopher Giordano Bruno was quoted as saying "This space we declare to be infinite... In it are an infinity of worlds of the same kind as our own." in 1584. Bruno was an early supporter of the Copernican theory that Earth and other planets orbit the Sun. Bruno put forward the view that fixed stars are similar to the Sun, and likewise are accompanied by planets.

In the 18th 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."

In 1952, more than 40 years before the first hot Jupiter was discovered, Otto Struve wrote that there is no compelling reason why planets could not be much closer to their parent star than is the case in the Solar System, and proposed that Doppler spectroscopy and the transit method could detect super-Jupiters in short orbits.

Discredited claimsEdit

Claims of exoplanet detection have been made since the 19th century. As early as 1855, William Stephen Jacob at the East India Company's Madras Observatory reported that orbital anomalies with the star 70 Ophiuchi made it "highly probable" that there was a "planetary body" within the system. In the 1890s, Thomas J. J. See of the University of Chicago and the United States Naval Observatory stated that the orbital anomalies proved the existence of a dark body in the 70 Ophiuchi system with a 36-year period around one of the stars. However, Forest Ray Moulton published a paper proving that a three-body system with those orbital parameters would be highly unstable. During the 1950s and 1960s, Peter van de Kamp of Swarthmore College made another prominent series of detection claims, this time for planets orbiting Barnard's Star. Astronomers now generally regard all the early reports of detection as erroneous.

In 1991, Andrew Lyne, M. Bailes and S. L. Shemar claimed to have discovered a pulsar planet in orbit around PSR 1829-10, using pulsar timing variations. The claim briefly received intense attention, but Lyne and his team soon retracted it.

Confirmed discoveriesEdit

As of May 1, 2018, a total of 3,767 confirmed exoplanets are listed in the Extrasolar Planets Encyclopaedia, 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. On January 9, 1992, radio astronomers Aleksander Wolszczan and Dale Frail announced the discovery of two planets orbiting the pulsar PSR 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.

On October 6, 1995, Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz of the University of Geneva announced the first definitive detection of an exoplanet orbiting a main-sequence star, namely the nearby G-type star 51 Pegasi. This discovery, made at the Observatoire de Haute-Provence, ushered in the modern era of exoplanetary discovery. Technological advances, most notably in high-resolution spectroscopy, led to the rapid detection of many new exoplanets: astronomers could detect exoplanets indirectly by measuring their gravitational influence on the motion of their host stars. More extrasolar planets were later detected by observing the variation in a star's apparent luminosity as an orbiting planet passed in front of it.

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". Prior to these results, most confirmed planets were gas giants comparable in size to Jupiter or larger as 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.


The first exoplanet was detected on October 6, 1995, and was named 51 Pegasi b. When an extrasolar planet is observed to transit its parent star, astronomers are able to assess some physical properties of the planet from an interstellar distance, including planetary mass and size, which in turn provide fundamental constraints on models of their physical structure. Furthermore, such events afford the opportunity to study the dynamics and chemistry of its atmosphere.

Statistical surveys and individual characterization are the keys to addressing the fundamental questions in exoplanetology. As of August 2016, varying techniques have been used to discover 3,502 exoplanets. Documenting the properties of a large sample exoplanets at various ages, orbiting their parent stars of various types, will contribute to increased understanding - or better models - of planetary formation (accretion), geological evolution, orbit migration, and their potential habitability. Characterizing the atmospheres of extrasolar planets is the new frontier in exoplanetary science.

Detection techniquesEdit

About 97% of all the confirmed exoplanets have been discovered by indirect techniques of detection, mainly by radial velocity measurements and transit monitoring techniques. The following methods have proved successful for discovering a new planet or confirming an already discovered planet:

  • Radial velocity
  • Gravitational microlensing
  • Direct imaging
  • Polarimetry
  • Astrometry
  • Transit photometry
    • Reflection/emission modulations
    • Light variations due to relativistic beaming
    • Light variations due to ellipsoidal variations
  • Timing variations
    • Pulsar timing
    • Variable star timing
    • Transit timing variation method
    • Transit duration variation method
    • Eclipsing binary minima timing

Formation and evolutionEdit

Planets form within a few tens 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 billion years old. When terrestrial planets form in a gaseous protoplanetary disk, they have hydrogen envelopes that cool and contract over time and, depending on the mass of the planet, some or all of the hydrogen 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.

Planet-hosting starsEdit


Artist impression of an extrasolar planet orbiting two stars.

There is at least one planet on average per star. About 1 in 5 Sun-like stars have an "Earth-sized" planet in the habitable zone.

Most known exoplanets orbit stars roughly similar to the Sun, i.e. main-sequence stars of spectral categories F, G, or K. Lower-mass stars (red dwarfs, of spectral category M) are less likely to have planets massive enough to be detected by the radial-velocity method. Despite this, several tens of planets around red dwarfs have been discovered by the Kepler spacecraft, which uses the transit method to detect smaller planets.

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.

Some planets orbit one member of a binary star system, and several circumbinary planets have been discovered which orbit around both members of binary star. A few planets in triple star systems are known and one in the quadruple system Kepler-64.

General featuresEdit

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.

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.

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.

Magnetic fieldEdit

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.

Interaction between a close-in planet's magnetic field and a star can produce spots on the star in a similar way to how the Galilean moons produce aurorae on Jupiter. Auroral radio emissions could be detected with radio telescopes such as LOFAR. The radio emissions could enable determination of the rotation rate of a planet which is difficult to detect otherwise.

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.

Plate tectonicsEdit

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 star 1SWASP J140747.93-394542.6 is orbited by an object that is circled by a ring system much larger than Saturn's rings. However, the mass of the object is not known; it could be a brown dwarf or low-mass star instead of a planet.

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.


In December 2013 a candidate exomoon of a rogue planet was announced. No exomoons have been confirmed so far.


Atmospheres have been detected around several exoplanets. The first to be observed was HD 209458 b in 2001.

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 similar to that of 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 14×106 km (9×106 mi) long.

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.

Insolation patternEdit

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 (O2) 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.

See alsoEdit

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