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Extrasolar planet

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Artist's impression of Fomalhaut B, an exoplante directly observed by the Hubble telescope
Planet Fomalhaut b (inset against Fomalhaut's interplanetary dust cloud) imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope's coronagraph (NASA photo)
Discovery image of the GJ 758 system, taken with Subaru telescope in the near infrared. It is unclear whether the companions should be regarded as planets or brown dwarfs.
2MASS J044144 is a brown dwarf with a companion about 5-10 times the mass of Jupiter. It is not clear whether this companion object is a sub-brown dwarf or a planet.
Exoplanet discoveries by year

An extrasolar planet (or exoplanet) is a natural planet in a planetary system outside our own solar system.

In 2013, estimates of the number of Earth-size planets in the Milky Way ranged from at least 17 billion[1] to at least 144 billion.[2]

An analysis was done of planet candidates gathered by the Kepler space observatory.[3] Among them are 461 Earth-size planets, at least four of which in the "habitable zone" where liquid water can exist. One of the four, dubbed KOI 172.02, is a mere 1.5 times the size of the Earth and around a star like our own Sun – about as near as the current data allow to finding an "Earth 2.0".[3]

Earlier work suggested that there are at least 100 billion planets of all types in our galaxy, an average of at least one per star. There are also planets that orbit brown dwarfs, and free-floating planets that orbit the galaxy directly just as the stars do. It is unclear whether either type should be called a "planet".[4][5][6]


Early speculations

In the sixteenth century, the Italian philosopher Giordano Bruno, an early supporter of the Copernican theory that the Earth and other planets orbit the Sun, put forward the view that the fixed stars are similar to the Sun and are likewise accompanied by planets. Bruno was burnt at the stake by the Holy Inquisition.[7]

In the eighteenth century, the same possibility was mentioned by Isaac Newton in his Principia. Making a comparison to the Sun's planets, he wrote "And if the fixed stars are the centers of similar systems, they will all be constructed according to a similar design and subject to the dominion of One".[8]

Confirmed discoveries

The first published and confirmed discovery was made in 1988.[9] It was finally confirmed in 1992.

In early 1992, radio astronomers announced the discovery of planets around another pulsar.[10] These pulsar planets are believed to have formed from the unusual remnants of the supernova that produced the pulsar, in a second round of planet formation. Otherwise they may be the remaining rocky cores of gas giants that 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 an ordinary main-sequence star (51 Pegasi).[11] 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 detection of many new exoplanets at a rapid rate. These advances allowed astronomers to detect exoplanets indirectly by measuring their gravitational influence on the motion of their parent stars. Additional extrasolar planets were eventually detected by observing the variation in a star's apparent luminosity as an orbiting planet passed in front of it.


Extrasolar planets can have many different forms compared to our solar system.

  • They can be gas giants or rocky planets
  • They can orbit several different types of stars
  • They can be free-floating or orbit a brown dwarf
  • They may support life. One recently discovered exoplanet, Gliese 581g is thought to possibly support life, but the existence of this planet is not yet confirmed.
  • They can possibly be dwarf planets, i.e. planets smaller and less dense than regular planets


The nearest star with planets is Alpha Centauri. It is 4.3 light years away. Using standard rockets, it would take tens of thousands of years to get there.[12] The nearest star similar to our Sun is Tau Ceti. It has five planets, one of which in the habitable zone, where liquid water may exist.[13][14]

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  1. Staff (2013). "17 billion Earth-size alien planets inhabit Milky Way". Retrieved 8 January 2013.
  2. Kopparapu, Ravi kumar (2013). "A revised estimate of the occurrence rate of terrestrial planets in the habitable zones around kepler m-dwarfs". Astrophysical Journal - Letters. Retrieved 25 July 2013.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Palmer, Jason 2013. Kepler telescope: Earth-sized planets 'number 17bn'. BBC News Science & Environment. [1]
  4. Claven, Whitney (2013). "Billions and billions of planets". NASA. Retrieved 3 January 2013.
  5. Staff (2013). "100 billion alien planets fill our Milky Way galaxy". Retrieved 3 January 2013.
  6. Cassan A et al (2012). "One or more bound planets per Milky Way star from microlensing observations". Nature 481 (7380): 167–169. doi:10.1038/nature10684 . PMID 22237108 . Retrieved 2012-01-11.
  7. "Cosmos" in The New Encyclopædia Britannica (15th edition, Chicago, 1991) 16:787:2a. "For his advocacy of an infinity of suns and earths, he was burned at the stake in 1600."
  8. Newton, Isaac; I. Bernard Cohen and Anne Whitman (1999 [1713]). The Principia: A New Translation and Guide. University of California Press. p. 940. ISBN 0-520-20217-1 .
  9. Campbell B.; Walker G.A.H.; Yang S. 1988. A search for substellar companions to solar-type stars. Astrophysical Journal 331: 902–921. Bibcode 1988ApJ...331..902C. doi:10.1086/166608
  10. Wolszczan A. & Frail D.A. 1992. A planetary system around the millisecond pulsar PSR1257+12. Nature 355 (6356): 145–147. doi:10.1038/355145a0
  11. M. Mayor, D. Queloz (1995). "A Jupiter-mass companion to a solar-type star". Nature 378 (6555): 355–359. doi:10.1038/378355a0 .
  12. "Travelling to Alpha Centauri". Retrieved 19 April 2013.
  13. Tau Ceti's planets nearest around single, Sun-like star. BBC News Science & Environment. [2]
  14. Tuomi M. et al [2012]. Signals embedded in the radial velocity noise. Astronomy and Astrophysics (in press). [3]

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