Planet detection and characterisation of bulk parameters

Since the discovery of the first extrasolar planet orbiting a solar type star in 1995 (Mayor & Queloz 1995),  just over 3700 (according to updated at May 2018) extrasolar planets have been detected and confirmed as planets


Current status of planet detections. Blue dots indicate RV detections with Msini limits. Red dots are transit detections (update from Rauer et al. 2014).

For many of these planets only one of their fundamental parameters (radius or mass) has been determined directly. In those cases where planets have been observed with both the transit and RV methods, their mass and radius, and thus bulk density, have been measured. This has led to exciting discoveries, including new classes of intermediate planets called “super-Earths” (Rplanet ≤ 2RE) and “mini-Neptunes” (2RE≤ Rplanet≤ 4RE).

Many transiting planet hosts, including the majority of CoRoT, Kepler and K2 discoveries, are too faint to permit full characterisation of the transiting planet.


Histogram of the visual magnitude of stars hosting exoplanets known to date. The left distribution (bright red end) corresponds to planets discovered by radial velocity and the right distribution (faint blue end) to planets discovered by the transit method. There is little overlap between both samples. The PLATO core sample will provide discoveries around stars brighter than magnitude 11, within reach of ground-based radial velocity facilities.

PLATO’s main detection range is however V11, and it will thus provide large numbers of targets that are suitable for follow-up spectral characterisation.

PLATO was designed to maximise the yield of detected small planets around bright stars that could be characterised with asteroseismology and followed-up with RV from the ground.


Expected yield of planets with highest characterisation accuracy (from P1 sample) in comparison to Kepler and TESS missions for two observing scenarios. Left: expected detection yield of small planets (R<2RE) around dwarf and sub-giant stars suitable for asteroseismology studies for Kepler (Lundkvist et al. 2016), TESS (Campante et al. 2016) and the PLATO core sample  for an observing sequence of 3 years long pointing plus 1 year step-and-stare phase. We show orbital periods shorter than 150 days. Right: expected detection yield of small planets (R<2RE) in the habitable zone of solar-like stars for a scenario of 2 long pointings (baseline).

There are no planets from Kepler or TESS with orbital periods beyond 150 days, that is, no small planets in the habitable zone of dwarf and sub-giant stars characterised with asteroseismology with Kepler or TESS (unless by single transit detections). PLATO outnumbers the performance of Kepler and TESS for planets with bright host stars for asteroseismology.

While TESS will have a sizeable impact on the detection of small planets around stars close to our solar system, it will not address the science case of characterising rocky planets at intermediate distances (a > 0.3 AU) around Sun-like stars. This goal remains unique to PLATOWhether our solar system is typical or special will thus remain unclear until we can reliably detect and characterise Earth-like planets, in Earth-like orbits, around all kinds of bright host stars. Detecting these planets, and accurately and precisely determining their radii, masses, bulk densities, and ages, is the primary objective of PLATO.




PLATO – Revealing habitable worlds around solar-like stars
Definition Study Report, ESA-SCI(2017)1, April 2017