Science

Alien Planet Too Big To Exist: Astronomers Say Exoplanet Doesn't Belong

Alien Planet Too Big To Exist: Astronomers Say Exoplanet Doesn't Belong”

"The discovery of NGTS-1b was a complete surprise to us - such massive planets were not thought to exist around such small stars", Daniel Bayliss, lead author on the new work and a researcher at University of Warwick in the United Kingdom, said in the statement.

Our theory on how planets formed has just taken a massive knock after the discovery of a "monster" planet that shouldn't exist.

However, the host star is small with a radius and mass about half of that of the Sun.

This planet is a hot Jupiter, at least as large as the Jupiter in the Solar System, but with around 20% less mass. The exoplanet orbits incredibly close to its parent star, with only 3 percent the distance between the Earth and our Sun separating the two celestial objects. Spotting the telltale signs of a planet orbiting a far-away star is still pretty hard, but powerful telescopes are making it a bit easier, and new planets are being found and documented with impressive regularity.

The researchers spotted the planet using the state-of-the-art Next-Generation Transit Survey (NGTS) - a wide-field observing facility made of a compact ensemble of telescopes, created to search for transiting planets on bright stars - run by the Universities of Warwick, Leicester, Cambridge, Queen's University Belfast, Observatoire de Genève, DLR Berlin and Universidad de Chile.

The system's star is a small, dim M-dwarf, which is the most common type of star in the sky. Red dwarfs burn their fuel much more slowly than sun-like stars, so they can have lifetimes of trillions of years.

It was previously believed that, whilst M-dwarf stars are capable of gathering the materials needed to produce rocky worlds, they lacked the gravitational clout to draw in enough material to allow for the formation of massive Jovian planets.

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"Our challenge is to now find out how common these types of planets are in the galaxy, and with the new NGTS facility, we are well-placed to do just that", he added.

"Despite being a monster of a planet, NGTS-1b was hard to find because its parent star is so small and faint", Warwick researcher Peter Wheatley said in the RAS statement.

Every so often astronomers discover something in the universe that is out of kilter with what we consider the natural laws, such as a star whose brightness dips irregularly.

The researchers made their discovery by monitoring patches of the night sky over many months, and detecting red light from the star with innovative red-sensitive cameras.

The new work, now available on arXiv.org, has been accepted for publication in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

While NGTS-1b is the first such gas giant found so close to a faint star, astronomers suggest there could be many scattered throughout the cosmos.



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