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Introduction

An exoplanet or extrasolar planet is a planet outside the Solar System. The first confirmation of an exoplanet detection occurred in 1992. As of 1 October 2019, there are 4,118 confirmed exoplanets in 3,063 systems, with 669 systems having more than one planet.

Drawing with 4 smallest planets of Kepler-90 larger than smallest planets in solar system, 4 largest planets similar size.
Figure 1. Artist's conception of exoplanets in Kepler-90 system compared to solar system.

Poster showing fictional party goers on exoplanet.
Figure 2. A NASA travel poster "spoof." Discovered in October 2013 using direct imaging, PSO J318.5-22 belongs to a special class of planets called rogue, or free-floating, planets. Wandering alone in the galaxy, they do not orbit a parent star. Not much is known about how these planets come to exist, but scientists theorize that they may be either failed stars or planets ejected from very young systems after an encounter with another planet. These rogue planets glow faintly from the heat of their formation. Once they cool down, they will be dancing in the dark.

 

There are many methods of detecting exoplanets. Transit photometry and Doppler spectroscopy have found the most, but these methods suffer from a clear observational bias favoring the detection of planets near the star; thus, 85% of the exoplanets detected as of 2019 are inside the tidal locking zone. In several cases, multiple planets have been observed around a star. About 1 in 5 Sun-like stars have an "Earth-sized" planet in the habitable zone. Assuming there are 200 billion stars in the Milky Way, it can be hypothesized that there are 11 billion potentially habitable Earth-sized planets in the Milky Way, rising to 40 billion if planets orbiting the numerous red dwarfs are included.

There are planets that are so near to their star that they take only a few hours to orbit and there are others so far away that they take thousands of years to orbit. Some are so far out that it is difficult to tell whether they are gravitationally bound to the star. Almost all of the planets detected so far are within the Milky Way. Nonetheless, evidence suggests that extragalactic planets, exoplanets farther away in galaxies beyond the local Milky Way galaxy, may exist. The nearest exoplanet is Proxima Centauri b, located 4.2 light-years (1.3 parsecs) from Earth and orbiting Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the Sun.

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.

Besides exoplanets, there are also rogue planets, which do not orbit any star. These tend to be considered as a separate category, especially if they are gas giants, in which case they are often counted as sub-brown dwarfs, like WISE 0855−0714. The rogue planets in the Milky Way possibly number in the billions (or more). [Source: Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exoplanet]

Poster showing fictional tourists on an exoplanet looking out of a vehicle window at a city.
Figure 3. Another NASA travel poster "spoof." Some 40 light-years from Earth, a planet called TRAPPIST-1e offers a heart-stopping view: brilliant objects in a red sky, looming like larger and smaller versions of our own moon. But these are no moons. They are other Earth-sized planets in a spectacular planetary system outside our own. These seven rocky worlds huddle around their small, dim, red star, like a family around a campfire. Any of them could harbor liquid water, but the planet shown here, fourth from the TRAPPIST-1 star, is in the habitable zone, the area around the star where liquid water is most likely to be detected. This system was revealed by the TRAnsiting Planets and PlanetIsmals Small Telescope (TRAPPIST) and NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope.

Resources

Resource Type
News Article
August 28, 2019
Astronomers have never seen a world quite like HR 5183 b before Read more
News Article
August 9, 2018
An unusual kind of star-planet hybrid atmosphere is emerging from studies of ultrahot planets orbiting close to other stars. Read more
News Article
March 5, 2019
Astronomers had dismissed the first exoplanet candidate spotted by the Kepler space telescope as a false alarm. Read more
News Article
January 15, 2020
The star closest to the sun may harbor another planet, this one much more massive and colder than Earth. Read more
News Article
October 30, 2018
After nine years in deep space collecting data that indicate our sky to be filled with billions of hidden planets – more planets even than stars – NASA’s Kepler space telescope has run out of fuel needed for further science operations. Read more
News Article
May 4, 2020
Lab experiments show yeast and E. coli survive and reproduce in hydrogen gas, suggesting new environments to seek alien life. Read more
News Article
May 5, 2020
Mysterious patterns in orbits of small bodies in the outer solar system could arise from the gravity of a massive disk of icy debris rather than an undiscovered giant world Read more
News Article
April 24, 2019
NASA′s InSight lander hears ripples of seismic energy rippling through Mars Read more
News Article
March 18, 2020
In a new study published in EPJ D. Tasko Grozdanov from Serbia and Evgeni Solov'ev from Russia describe the configuration and energy levels of antiprotonic helium that can potentially be produced by colliding slow antiprotons with ordinary helium at CERN. Read more
News Article
March 11, 2020
Using data from the Dark Energy Survey, researchers have found and cataloged more than 300 minor planets beyond Neptune, including more than 100 new discoveries. This updated catalog of trans-Neptunian objects, and the methods used to find them, could aid in future searches for undiscovered planets in the far reaches of the solar system. Read more
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