Scientists from the University of Warwick have recently reported the discovery of a ‘Neptunian Planet’ in what should be a ‘Neptunian Desert’.
A unique, ‘forbidden’ exoplanet much smaller than Neptune, with its very own atmosphere has been discovered in the ‘Neptunian Desert’, by an international collaboration of astronomers.
As explained by astronomers the planet dubbed NGTS-4b is around 20% smaller than Neptune, and around 3 times the size of Earth.
It has been nicknamed the ‘Forbidden’ planet by researchers who participated in its discovery.
The mystery world was revealed after astronomers used the state-of-the-art Next-Generation Transit Survey (NGTS) observing facility, which was specifically engineered to hunt for transiting planets on bright stars.
The facility is located in the center of the Chilean Atacama Desert and is a scientific collaboration between UK Universities Warwick, Leicester, Cambridge, and Queen’s University Belfast, together with Observatoire de Genève, DLR Berlin and Universidad de Chile.
The NGTS allows astronomers to spot dips in the light of a start of only 0.2%. Usually, when astronomers look for planets that orbit around stars and cause their brightness to dip, only 1% or more are picked up by ground-based searches.
But astronomers have revealed that NGTS-4b is actually so small, that other ground-based survey would not have managed to spot it.
The world, say astronomers, is located 920 light years away from us.
Having a mass of 20 Earth’s. the forbidden planet has a radius which has been calculated at 20% smaller than Neptune. Its surface temperature is believed to be around 1000 degrees Celsius.
The forbidden world is orbiting its star every 1.3 days. This is equivalent to the orbit of our planet around the sun in one year.
The mystery world is reportedly the first exoplanet of its type that has been discovered in the so-called Neptunian Desert.
The Neptunian desert is a region in space close to a star where astronomers argue no Neptune-sized planets should exist.
The so-called Neptunian Desert is an area where strong irradiation from the local star exists.
This causes planets to get stripped of their gaseous atmosphere. Therefore, planets that exist there are usually left only with their rocky core.
However, the recently identified planet, NGTS-4b, still has its atmosphere of gas.
Astronomers have a few explanations for this. The prevailing theory is that the recently found world may have moved only recently into the region it is located today.
Experts say that this may have occurred in the last one million years or so.
In addition to that, astronomers argue that NGTS-4b may have a really massive atmosphere that takes longer to evaporate.
This planet must be tough – it is right in the zone where we expected Neptune-sized planets could not survive. It is truly remarkable that we found a transiting planet via a star dimming by less than 0.2% – 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,” explained Dr. Richard West, from the Department of Physics at the University of Warwick.