Exoplanets

An artist's impression of an exoplanet orbiting a red dwarf star. (Image Credit: NASA)

Also known as extrasolar planets, exoplanets are worlds outside of our Solar System. Astronomers have catalogued nearly 2,000 exoplanets in over a thousand solar systems since the first exoplanets were discovered in the early and mid-1990s. Due to their dimness compared to their host stars, their small size and light-years of distance, exoplanets are extremely difficult to observe and study. Telescopes have directly imaged only a score so far, and in little detail. Instead, the vast majority of exoplanets have been observed indirectly, most prolifically via the transit method, whereby a star's brightness dims ever so slightly as an orbiting exoplanet crosses it as seen from Earth. Astrophysicists study exoplanets to learn more about planetary formation and evolution scenarios and to draw comparisons between our Solar System and others. The question of the potential for other worlds to have conditions favorable for the development of extraterrestrial life is explored especially by the field of astrobiology. The discovery of Earth-like worlds remains a major goal of exoplanetary science. Most worlds on record are larger than Earth and have orbits much closer to their stars, which makes them easier to detect given the sensitivity of current instruments.

Spotlight Live: Coming Soon - Earth-like Planets in Other Solar Systems

Oct 03, 2014

We’re on the verge of being able to tell which of the thousands of Earth-like planets in the universe could support life. 

Spotlight Live: The Hunt for Other Worlds Heats Up (Transcript)

Jul 15, 2014

During a recent Google Hangout, three astrophysicists discussed the recent exoplanet discovery boom and considered the next steps in the hunt for habitable worlds. Read a modified transcript of their discussion.

Spotlight Live: The Hunt for Other Worlds Heats Up

Jul 09, 2014

Three astrophysicists – Zachory Berta-Thompson, Bruce Macintosh and Marie-Eve Naud.

Spotlight Live: The Brain or the Universe – Where Does Math Come From?

Aug 02, 2013

The Brain or the Universe – Where Does Math Come From? On August 7, 2013, three leading scientists - two neuroscientists and one astrophysicist -– answered your questions about this debate during a live Google Hangout.

Spotlight Live: TESS & the Search for Exoplanets

May 01, 2013
Illustration of the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite

Following a three-year competition, NASA has selected the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) project at MIT for a planned launch in 2017. 

Spotlight Live: Nomads of the Galaxy

An artistic rendition of a nomad object wandering the interstellar medium. The object is intentionally blurry to represent uncertainty about whether or not it has an atmosphere. A nomadic object may be an icy body akin to an object found in the outer Solar System, a more rocky material akin to asteroid, or even a gas giant similar in composition to the most massive Solar System planets and exoplanets. (Image by Greg Stewart/SLAC)
May 15, 2012
Stanford

Planets adrift in space may not only be common in the cosmos; in the Milky Way Galaxy alone, their number may be in the quadrillions.  Standford astrophysicist Louis Strigari talks about these nomadic wanderers after a recent research paper that generated attention when it greatly increased the estimate for the number of these planets, renewing speculation about life beyond Earth.

Nomads of the Galaxy

Apr 29, 2012

Planets simply adrift in space may not only be common in the cosmos; in the Milky Way Galaxy alone, their number may be in the quadrillions. 

TESS: Searching Closer to Home

Dec 01, 2011
TESS

In the ongoing hunt for planets beyond our own solar system, spacecraft in coming years will focus their telescopes on the nearest stars – those in our immediate neighborhood of the Milky Way galaxy. 

Exoplanets: How the Milky Way is Surprising Scientists

Jul 21, 2011
Exoplanets

Three prominent researchers discuss how recent findings from the Kepler mission are deepening our understanding of planets beyond our solar system, and expanding our view of where life may exist in the Milky Way Galaxy.

In Search of Another Earth

Dec 27, 2010
Artist's rendition of Kepler spacecraft.

In a three-part series, MIT News explored MIT researchers’ roles in the quest to find an Earth twin and the effort to make sense of the 500 exoplanets that have been discovered since 1995.

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