Blazing 'Forbidden' Planet in 'Neptunian Desert' Discovered by Scientists

Katie Ramirez
May 31, 2019

Officially, the global team gave the planet the sobering designation of NGTS-4b, a term derived from the Next-Generation Transit Survey, the ground-based telescope in Chile's Atacama Desert that spotted the exoplanet. "And previous surveys have indeed found no planets in this zone".

"So we don't expect to find a planet like this so close to a star".

"When looking for new exoplanets we look for a dip in the light of a star - this the planet orbiting it and blocking the light", the astronomers said.

What makes the Forbidden Planet such a unique find is because it is the only Neptune-sized world ever to be found in the Neptunian Desert so far.

Discovered using the state-of-the-art Next-Generation Transit Survey (NGTS) observing facility, created to search for transiting planets on bright stars, but NGTS-4b is so small other ground surveys wouldn't have spotted it.

Researchers previously believed this region was inhospitable to Neptune-sized planets because it receives strong heat and radiation from the star, which prevents the planets from retaining their gaseous atmospheres. The facility is situated at ESO's Paranal Observatory in the heart of the Atacama Desert, Chile. The planet seems to circle its star once every 1.3 Earth-days, and it is about 20 times the mass and 3 times the radius of Earth.

Astronomers employ the term "Neptunian Desert" to describe a region in solar systems so close to the star that the star's energy would strip away the atmosphere from any planet in the desert.

There's something unusual about a newly discovered planet about 920 light-years from Earth.

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Richard G. West et al.

To determine the location of the Forbidden Planet, the researchers used a state-of-the-art observing facility known as the Next-Generation Transit Survey. Normally, ground-based telescopes can only detect dips in light of 1 percent of more.

The researchers' findings were published Monday in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

"It is truly remarkable that we found a transiting planet via a star dimming by less than 0.2 per cent".

Astronomers think that it may only recently, maybe in the last one million years or so, have migrated this close to the star.

So, a year on this planet is only 1.3 days, " said Daniel Bayliss, from the University of Warwick, who worked on the study. "We are now scouring out data to see if we can see any more planets in the Neptune Desert-perhaps the desert is greener than was once thought", said physicist Richard West, with the University of Warwick.

Even "Warm Neptunes", which are usually found on the periphery of the desert, are thought to have started off as "hot Neptunes", before losing too much hydrogen gas to evaporation.

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