Before getting into the nuts and bolts of designing stars and planets, it’s best if some basics are established—known relationships and processes to which we will be referring frequently as we delve deeper and deeper into this process.

Let’s start with some fundamental relationships among four crucial physical characteristics: Mass, Radius, Density, and Gravity.

Let’s start with some fundamental relationships among four crucial physical characteristics: Mass, Radius, Density, and Gravity.

These relationships hold for any object large enough to achieve hydrostatic equilibrium.

Note that in the last row, each value is defined as a function of all of the other three, but in the top three rows, as long as any two of the other three values are known, the third can be calculated.

By “relative units”, we mean “in terms of the ‘standard example’”; that is to say, Earth or the Sun, for instance. For example, using the equation:

Note that in the last row, each value is defined as a function of all of the other three, but in the top three rows, as long as any two of the other three values are known, the third can be calculated.

By “relative units”, we mean “in terms of the ‘standard example’”; that is to say, Earth or the Sun, for instance. For example, using the equation:

… if all of the variables are expressed in terms of Earth = 1, then, for Mars, M = 0.107 (or 0.107 times the mass of the Earth), and R = 0.533 (or 0.533 times the radius of the Earth), and so:

… so, the surface gravity of Mars is 0.377 times that of Earth, which is the value we find if we look up Mars in a reference work.

The following table compares the measured density (ρ) of the other seven planets in the Solar System to that calculated by using only the mass and radius equation (ρ2) and that calculated using the mass/radius/gravity equation (ρ3). As can be seen, the calculated values are in close agreement with measured values (ρ2/ρ) and (ρ3/ρ), and in even closer agreement with one another (ρ3/ρ2).

The following table compares the measured density (ρ) of the other seven planets in the Solar System to that calculated by using only the mass and radius equation (ρ2) and that calculated using the mass/radius/gravity equation (ρ3). As can be seen, the calculated values are in close agreement with measured values (ρ2/ρ) and (ρ3/ρ), and in even closer agreement with one another (ρ3/ρ2).

The following table makes the same comparisons, instead calculating the values for gravity based upon measured values for mass, radius, and density, and we find the same degree of agreement.

So, we can see that theory is verified by measurement, within an acceptable margin of error.

For non-stellar bodies, these relationships will be our primary means of determining the physical characteristics of invented objects, but in all cases, at least two attributes will have to be decided upon before either of the other two can be calculated.

Thus, it will be important to decide up-front which attributes are most desired; for instance, are a particular mass and gravity the most important considerations, or are the mass and radius the more important attributes?

Taking a page from recent news, TRAPPIST-1b is reported to have a mass of 0.85 that of Earth, and a radius of 1.086±0.035 Earth's (we'll use the base value, here).

So, what would its surface gravity and density be?

Starting with gravity:

For non-stellar bodies, these relationships will be our primary means of determining the physical characteristics of invented objects, but in all cases, at least two attributes will have to be decided upon before either of the other two can be calculated.

Thus, it will be important to decide up-front which attributes are most desired; for instance, are a particular mass and gravity the most important considerations, or are the mass and radius the more important attributes?

Taking a page from recent news, TRAPPIST-1b is reported to have a mass of 0.85 that of Earth, and a radius of 1.086±0.035 Earth's (we'll use the base value, here).

So, what would its surface gravity and density be?

Starting with gravity:

We arrive at a surface gravity for TRAPPIST-1b of 0.721 that of Earth, or about 7.07 m/sec/sec.

What about its density? Let's use all three of the other attributes to calculate it, so that the density is determined by the measured values for the mass and radius, and the calculated value for the surface gravity:

What about its density? Let's use all three of the other attributes to calculate it, so that the density is determined by the measured values for the mass and radius, and the calculated value for the surface gravity:

We get a density value for TRAPPIST-1b of 0.664 times that of Earth, or about 3.659 grams per cubic centimeter, which is slightly less than the measured value for Mars of 3.9335.

We get precisely the same value for the density if we use only the mass-over-radius-cubed equation:

We get precisely the same value for the density if we use only the mass-over-radius-cubed equation:

... so we have good reliability of our calculated value for the surface gravity.

We now have a fuller mental picture of the nature of the exoplanet TRAPPIST-1b: it is only very slightly larger than Earth in radius, but 85% as massive; with a surface gravity about 72% that of Earth, or 1.92 times that of Mars; and a density 66% that of Earth's, or 93% that of Mars.

The mass and density figures tell us the most about its possible composition; since it is the size of Earth, but 85% as massive and 66% as dense, it likely has a lower heavy metal content—perhaps indicating a smaller core—and a correspondingly higher content of rocky material.

Finer and more detailed observations of the TRAPPIST-1 system will perhaps give us more observational data with which to compare our calculated values, but if we wanted to base an in vented world on TRAPPIST-1b, we've made a good start.

We now have a fuller mental picture of the nature of the exoplanet TRAPPIST-1b: it is only very slightly larger than Earth in radius, but 85% as massive; with a surface gravity about 72% that of Earth, or 1.92 times that of Mars; and a density 66% that of Earth's, or 93% that of Mars.

The mass and density figures tell us the most about its possible composition; since it is the size of Earth, but 85% as massive and 66% as dense, it likely has a lower heavy metal content—perhaps indicating a smaller core—and a correspondingly higher content of rocky material.

Finer and more detailed observations of the TRAPPIST-1 system will perhaps give us more observational data with which to compare our calculated values, but if we wanted to base an in vented world on TRAPPIST-1b, we've made a good start.