In the last two decades, new discoveries have improved our understanding of other planetary systems. By measuring the brightnesses and motions of nearby stars, astronomers have detected more than 200 planets in 170 planetary systems. Most planets are gas giants like Jupiter or Neptune. Others are icy super-Earths. SSP scientists use ground-based and space-based instruments to detect and to characterize exoplanets.

Starting in the mid-1980's, infrared satellites revealed debris disks around nearby stars. Most debris disks are roughly the size of the Solar System and contain a few lunar masses of small dust particles. Although planets are not directly detected in debris disks, the debris is a signpost of terrestrial and gas giant planet formation. SSP scientists use numerical calculations to characterize debris disks and to develop tools to infer the masses of planets within the debris.


Lori Allen, Gaspar Bakos, Dave Charbonneau, Jonathan Devor, Andrea Dupree, Scott Kenyon, Sylvain Korzennik, Dimitar Sasselov, Volker Tolls