Space Science Reviews

, Volume 180, Issue 1–4, pp 71–99 | Cite as

Below One Earth: The Detection, Formation, and Properties of Subterrestrial Worlds

  • E. Sinukoff
  • B. Fulton
  • L. Scuderi
  • E. GaidosEmail author


The Solar System includes two planets—Mercury and Mars—significantly less massive than Earth, and all evidence indicates that planets of similar size orbit many stars. In fact, one of the first exoplanets to be discovered is a lunar-mass planet around a millisecond pulsar. Novel classes of exoplanets have inspired new ideas about planet formation and evolution, and these “sub-Earths” should be no exception: they include planets with masses between Mars and Venus for which there are no Solar System analogs. Advances in astronomical instrumentation and recent space missions have opened the sub-Earth frontier for exploration: the Kepler mission has discovered dozens of confirmed or candidate sub-Earths transiting their host stars. It can detect Mars-size planets around its smallest stellar targets, as well as exomoons of comparable size. Although the application of the Doppler method is currently limited by instrument stability, future spectrographs may detect equivalent planets orbiting close to nearby bright stars. Future space-based microlensing missions should be able to probe the sub-Earth population on much wider orbits. A census of sub-Earths will complete the reconnaissance of the exoplanet mass spectrum and test predictions of planet formation models, including whether low-mass M dwarf stars preferentially host the smallest planets. The properties of sub-Earths may reflect their low gravity, diverse origins, and environment, but they will be elusive: Observations of eclipsing systems by the James Webb Space Telescope may give us our first clues to the properties of these small worlds.


Exoplanets Kepler mission Planet formation Astrobiology 



This research has made use of the NASA Exoplanet Archive, which is operated by the California Institute of Technology, under contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration under the Exoplanet Exploration Program. Some of the data presented in this paper were obtained from the Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes (MAST). STScI is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., under NASA contract NAS5-26555. Support for MAST for non-HST data is provided by the NASA Office of Space Science via grant NNX09AF08G and by other grants and contracts. This paper includes data collected by the Kepler mission. Funding for the Kepler mission is provided by the NASA Science Mission directorate. EG acknowledges support from NASA grants NNX10AI90G and NNX11AC33G. We thank Y. Kokubo for providing Fig. 5, E. Kite for commenting on an earlier version of this manuscript and E. Petigura and A. Howard for helpful discussions.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for AstronomyUniversity of Hawai‘i at MānoaHonoluluUSA
  2. 2.Department of Geology & GeophysicsUniversity of Hawai‘i at MānoaHonoluluUSA

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