Gravitational microlensing is a method for discovering extra-solar planets. It is different to other techniques in that it is sensitive to planets in orbits around their host star where scientists think planets form most readily. In a recent work, Daisuke Suzuki of the Japan/New Zealand MOA collaboration announced that the most likely mass of such planets is about that of Neptune. The story was picked up by the New Zealand Herald today.
This graph plots 4,769 exoplanets and planet candidates according to their masses and relative distances from the snow line, the point where water and other materials freeze solid (vertical cyan line). Gravitational microlensing is particularly sensitive to planets in this region. Planets are shaded according to the discovery technique listed at right. Masses for unconfirmed planetary candidates from NASA’s Kepler mission are calculated based on their sizes. For comparison, the graph also includes the planets of our solar system.
Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
To reach this conclusion, Suzuki and his co-authors analysed a set of microlensing planets that have already been discovered, conducting a statistical analysis to infer the most likely planet mass of these cold planets. One of the planets included in the planet which I announced in Monthly Notices last year. The discovery and announcement of these planets power the sort of statistical analyses like that of the Suzuki et al result.
Neptune-mass exoplanets like the one shown in this artist’s rendering may be the most common in the icy regions of planetary systems. Beyond a certain distance from a young star, water and other substances remain frozen, leading to an abundant population of icy objects that can collide and form the cores of new planets. In the foreground, an icy body left over from this period drifts past the planet.
Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Francis Reddy
arXiv version of paper: http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2016arXiv161203939S
Additional graphics: http://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/cgi-bin/details.cgi?aid=12425
Video on YouTube: https://youtu.be/qzlR3kBCLYM