Astroboffins spot a fat 'monster' ALIEN planet terrorizing tiny dwarf

It's the biggest faraway world found compared to the size of its parent

Artist's impression of a sunrise on NGTS-1b. Image credit: University of Warwick/Mark Garlick

Pic Scientists have discovered a new “monster” alien world that challenges today's theories about planet formation due to its sheer size.

The giant, known as NGTS-1b, is 600 light years away and is the biggest planet compared to the size of its parent star NGTS-1 ever found. NGTS-1b is a hot Jupiter, a rare class of exoplanet. Although small M-type dwarf stars like NGTS-1 are the most common type in the galaxy, only three hot Jupiters have been spotted around them so far.

NGTS-1 has a radius about half that of the Sun, whilst its closest companion NGTS-1b has a radius about 1.33 times that of Jupiter. The two bodies are gravitationally locked close together; the mammoth planet completes an orbit in just over 2.6 days.

Daniel Bayliss, lead author of the research and assistant professor at the astronomy and astrophysics department at the University of Warwick, in the UK, said today the result was a “complete surprise”.

Small, dense rocky planets form usually close to stars and large gas and ice planets are on the outer edge, a pattern seen in our Solar System.

It is believed that the material making up the protoplanetary disk around a young star collides and clumps together to form larger clusters which stick together to eventually create planets. The bodies closer to the host star have to be made of materials with higher melting points to withstand the heat from the star, whereas planets made of gas and ice are more volatile and only survive at further distances.

'Wisdom'

“Such massive planets were not thought to exist around such small stars," said Bayliss. "This is the first exoplanet we have found with our new [Next-Generation Transit Survey] NGTS facility and we are already challenging the received wisdom of how planets form."

“Our challenge is to now find out how common these types of planets are in the Galaxy,” Bayliss said. A team of astronomers spotted a blip in the star’s brightness as the planet passed in front of it by using the NGTS - a series of ground-based telescopes located in the Atacama desert in Northern Chile known for its clear, cloudless skies.

The periodic dimming of the star was monitored over several months to gather enough data to calculate the gargantuan planet’s size, position and mass. Peter Wheatley, leader of the NGTS and professor at the astronomy and astrophysics department at the University of Warwick, said: “NGTS-1b was difficult to find, despite being a monster of a planet, because its parent star is small and faint. Small stars are actually the most common in the universe, so it is possible that there are many of these giant planets waiting to found.”

More details will be published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, although here is a pre-print version of the paper. ®


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