Meet the superlative exoplanets
Meet the superlative exoplanets

Among exoplanets, the Most Athletic award would surely have to go to the biggest, strongest, fastest one around: TOI 4201b. This planet was a latecomer to the class, just discovered in 2023, but its athletic prowess is impossible to deny. Weighing in at 2 1/2 times the mass of Jupiter, 4201b is one of the biggest planets found orbiting a red dwarf, yet it can still sprint a full lap in just 3 1/2 days. This planet’s size is especially impressive because long-lived red dwarf stars have less extra material and typically contain fewer heavy elements than more massive stars, which makes it harder to form big planets.

CLASS CLOWN: Proxima Centauri b
The nearest star to our Sun is Proxima Centauri, a small red dwarf about four light-years away that orbits a pair of Sunlike stars every half-million years. Even though it’s so close, Proxima is invisible to the unaided eye and wasn’t discovered until 1915. It took another century and year to find Proxima’s first planet, Proxima Centauri b. Our nearest neighbor planet is practically Earth-size, just a tad bigger and more massive. It orbits its star every 11 days, well inside the habitable zone, where astronomers had unsuccessfully searched for a planet for decades. Proxima b’s ability to evade detection (clearly learned from its parent star, so the family is full of tricksters) is the greatest joke a planet has ever played on planet hunters.

Discovered in 2012, Wasp J1407b is so far the only planet — or potentially brown dwarf — beyond our Solar System to be found with rings, and they put Saturn’s style to shame. This super Saturn transits a young star slightly less massive than the Sun, and data from the system match a model of 30 different rings, each tens of millions of miles wide — 200 times bigger than Saturn’s. J1407b even shows signs of an exomoon that has cleared a path in the rings. The varied accessories made this vote a no-brainer.

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