Working Group on Extrasolar Planets
Defintion of a "Planet"
POSITION STATEMENT ON THE DEFINITION OF A "PLANET"
WORKING GROUP ON EXTRASOLAR PLANETS (WGESP) OF THE INTERNATIONAL
Created: February 28, 2001
Last Modified: February 28, 2003
Rather than try to construct a detailed definition of a
planet which is designed to cover all future possibilities, the WGESP has
agreed to restrict itself to developing a working definition applicable to the
cases where there already are claimed detections, e.g., the radial velocity
surveys of companions to (mostly) solar-type stars, and the imaging surveys for
free-floating objects in young star clusters. As new claims are made in the
future, the WGESP will weigh their individual merits and circumstances, and
will try to fit the new objects into the WGESP definition of a
"planet", revising this definition as necessary. This is a gradualist
approach with an evolving definition, guided by the observations that will
decide all in the end.
Emphasizing again that this is only a working definition,
subject to change as we learn more about the census of low-mass companions, the
WGESP has agreed to the following statements:
1) Objects with true masses below the limiting mass for
thermonuclear fusion of deuterium (currently calculated to be 13 Jupiter masses
for objects of solar metallicity) that orbit stars or stellar remnants are
"planets" (no matter how they formed). The minimum mass/size required
for an extrasolar object to be considered a planet should be the same as that
used in our Solar System.
2) Substellar objects with true masses above the limiting
mass for thermonuclear fusion of deuterium are "brown dwarfs", no matter how they formed nor where they are located.
3) Free-floating objects in young star clusters with masses
below the limiting mass for thermonuclear fusion of deuterium are not
"planets", but are "sub-brown dwarfs" (or whatever name is
These statements are a compromise between
definitions based purely on the deuterium-burning mass or on the formation
mechanism, and as such do not fully satisfy anyone on the WGESP.
However, the WGESP agrees that these statements constitute the basis for a
reasonable working definition of a "planet" at this time. We can
expect this definition to evolve as our knowledge improves.