The observed properties of extrasolar planets and planetary systems are reviewed, including discussion of the mass, period, and eccentricity distributions; the presence of multiple systems; and the properties of the host stars. In all cases, the data refer to systems with ages in the Ga range. Some of the properties primarily reflect the formation mechanism, while others are determined by postformation dynamical evolutionary processes. The problem addressed here is the extraction of information relevant to the identification of the formation mechanism. The presumed formation sites, namely disks around young stars, therefore, must provide clues at times much closer to the actual formation time. The properties of such disks are briefly reviewed. The amount of material and its distribution in the disks provide a framework for the development of a model for planet formation. The strengths of, as well as the problems with, the two major planet formation mechanisms—gravitational instability and core accretion–gas capture—are then described. It is concluded that most of the known planetary systems are best explained by the accretion process. The timescales for the persistence of disks and for the formation time by this process are similar, and the mass range of the observed planets, up to approximately 10 Jupiter masses, is naturally explained. The mass range of 5–15 Jupiter masses probably represents an overlapping transition region, with planetary formation processes dominating below that range and star formation processes dominating above it.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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