Monster Planet Discovery Challenges The Theory Of How Planets Form

Posted: Nov 3 2017, 5:55am CDT | by , in News | Latest Science News

 
Monster Planet Discovery Challenges the Theory of How Planets Form
Artist’s impression of planet NGTS-1b Credit: University of Warwick/Mark Garlick

The newly-discovered planet has been observed around a small star. The size mismatch stuns scientists

Astronomers have discovered a new giant planet almost the size of Jupiter orbiting around a small star. The discovery baffles scientists as it is totally unseen and calls into question the existing theory about the formation of planets.

It is widely believed that large planets could not form around a small star. Small stars can drive the formation of rocky planets but they do not clump together enough material to create Jupiter-sized planets. However, the existence of monster planet, dubbed NGTS-1b, challenges that view.

NGTS-1b is a gas giant and falls in the category of hot Jupiters, the planets that are as large as our solar systems’ own planet Jupiter. However, unlike Jupiter, the newly discovered planet is very close to its star and has a very short orbital period. It completes an orbit around its host stars every 2.6 days, meaning a year on NGTS-1b lasts two and a half Earth days. Surprisingly, the host star of the planet is very small, with a radius and mass half that of our sun.

“Despite being a monster of a planet, NGTS-1b was difficult to find because its parent star is so small and faint,” said Professor Peter Wheatley from the University of Warwick. “…small stars like this red M-dwarf are actually the most common in the universe, so it is possible that there are many of these giant planets waiting to found."

The latest discovery was made possible by an array of 12 telescopes that have been deployed for The Next-Generation Transit Survey or NGTS. Researchers continually monitored the patches of the night sky for many months before they detected red light coming from the star through sensitive cameras.

The brightness of the star dips every 2.6 days, suggesting that a planet is orbiting around the star and periodically blocking its light. The fluctuations leave subtle signatures that can be observed from the Earth.

Using these observations, researchers have estimated the planet’s orbit and its size.

Lead author of the study Dr Daniel Bayliss from University of Warwick says. “The discovery of NGTS-1b was a complete surprise to us – such massive planets were not thought to exist around such small stars – importantly, our challenge now is to find out how common these types of planets are in the Galaxy, and with the new Next-Generation Transit Survey facility we are well-placed to do just that.”

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