Astronomers Discover Real Rare Planet in the ‘Neptunian Desert’

From time to time, we are presented with new discoveries related to our solar system. Recently, another planet was discovered. Astronomers have tagged the planet as ‘rare’ and ‘unusual’. This newly discovered planet located in the distant solar system has been named NGTS-4b.

Compared to earth, the planet is quite large. It’s estimated to be about three times larger than earth and consequently 20% smaller than Neptune. NGTS-4b’s average temperature is 1,000 degrees Celsius making it even hotter than Mercury which is the hottest planet in our solar system.

However, the most prominent difference between this planet and ours is its location. NGTS-4b is located in the Neptunian Desert.

The Neptunian desert is a location close to a star. It is referred to as a desert because no planet can habit that area due to the fact that the atmosphere from the planet would be pushed away due to the energy from the star. This region was named after Neptune because the planet would stand no chance of existing there due to the fact that it constitutes mainly of atmosphere and a little rocky core.

Using the Next Generation Transit Survey facility, astronomers from the University of Warwick in collaboration with other international groups led the group that made the discovery.

The Next Generation Transit Survey Facility is robotic in nature. It is designed to discover new planets and is housed in the Atacama desert located in Chile at the Paranal Observatory.

What makes this planet rare is the fact that it exists. Planets are not supposed to exist due to the energy from the star but that is not the case. NGTS-4b is still in existence.

NGTS-4b which is an exoplanet has been renamed ‘The Forbidden Planet’. Despite the fact that it is bigger than earth and only a little smaller than Neptune, it moves very fast. It makes its orbit around a star in the same time the earth orbits around the sun. Keep in mind that the sun is just an average sized star. In 1.3 days, The Forbidden Planet’s orbit is complete.

The Forbidden Planet is recorded to be the first exoplanet to be found IN the Neptunian region.

 

The Next-Generation Transit Survey (NGTS) has further plans to undergo searches for planets which pass in front of their parent star. Such planets give out dimmed light from the star. Such planets are called transiting exoplanets. The dimmed light which they give can be detected through special machines which focus on discovering planets that are similar or smaller in size when compared to Neptune.

The Next-Generation Transit Survey (NGTS) is located at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in northern Chile. This project will search for transiting exoplanets — planets that pass in front of their parent star and hence produce a slight dimming of the star’s light that can be detected by sensitive instruments. The telescopes will focus on discovering Neptune-sized and smaller planets, with diameters between two and eight times that of Earth. This image shows the NGTS enclosure in the day. The VISTA (right) and VLT (left) domes can also be seen on the horizon.

The detection of the dimmed lights is known as the transit method. It is the most popularly used. However, most machines can only detect the light with a minimum dip of 1%. The NGTS however, is more advanced and can detect a dip of only 0.2%.

Questions are still being asked on why the Forbidden Planet’s atmosphere has not yet been stripped off. Astrologers have surmised that the planet must have only inhabited the Neptunian area for around one million years which is only a short period in the solar system. And due to the fact that it has only recently shifted there, the star has not had enough time to destroy it. Another school of thought says that it is probable that the planet has always been there but was of a much larger size and is being reduced as time goes by.

At a press release, Dr. Richard West who is from the Department of Physics at the University of Warwick gave a statement: “It is truly remarkable that we found a transiting planet via a star dimming by less than 0.2 percent — this has never been done before by telescopes on the ground, and it was great to find after working on this project for a year.”

He also added, “This planet must be tough – it is right in the zone where we expected Neptune-sized planets could not survive.”

 

He also spoke on the likelihood of the existence of similar planets. “We are now scouring our data to see if we can see any more planets in the Neptune Desert — perhaps the desert is greener than was once thought.”

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. Since Neptune is a gas giant, basically just one big atmosphere with only a very tiny rocky core, Neptune couldn’t exist there. Hence the name, the Neptunian Desert.

Astronomers at the University of Warwick led the international collaboration that found NGTS-4b. They found it using the Next Generation Transit Surveyfacility, a robotic planet-hunting system located at Paranal Observatory, in the Atacama desert in Chile.

What’s remarkable about this exoplanet is that it still has its atmosphere. Given its proximity to its star, the atmosphere should have been stripped away. But it’s not.

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