On the Mass Function, Multiplicity, and Origins of Wide-orbit Giant Planets

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38 Scopus citations


A major outstanding question regarding the formation of planetary systems is whether wide-orbit giant planets form differently than close-in giant planets. We aim to establish constraints on two key parameters that are relevant for understanding the formation of wide-orbit planets: (1) the relative mass function and (2) the fraction of systems hosting multiple companions. In this study, we focus on systems with directly imaged substellar companions and the detection limits on lower mass bodies within these systems. First, we uniformly derive the mass probability distributions of known companions. We then combine the information contained within the detections and detection limits into a survival analysis statistical framework to estimate the underlying mass function of the parent distribution. Finally, we calculate the probability that each system may host multiple substellar companions. We find that (1) the companion mass distribution is rising steeply toward smaller masses, with a functional form of N ∝ M -1.3±0.03, and consequently, (2) many of these systems likely host additional undetected substellar companions. Combined, these results strongly support the notion that wide-orbit giant planets are formed predominantly via core accretion, similar to the better studied close-in giant planets. Finally, given the steep rise in the relative mass function with decreasing mass, these results suggest that future deep observations should unveil a greater number of directly imaged planets.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number46
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 20 2019


  • planets and satellites: formation
  • planets and satellites: gaseous planets

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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