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Rogue ‘forbidden’ planet found in ‘Neptunian Desert’

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Sometimes it pays to keep watching.

Researchers have a “forbidden” planet about three times the size of Earth in an area known as the Neptunian Desert, a place where it should not exist.

Also known as NGTS-4b, the exoplanet has a mass of 20 Earth and a radius that is 20 percent smaller than Neptune. In orbit around the star every 1.3 days, it has a temperature approaching 1000 degrees Celsius. But still, it still has its own atmosphere, something that is the cause of the researchers to scratch their heads.

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NGTS-4 was observed with the help of a few NGTS camera on 272 nights between Aug. 6, 2016 and May 5 2017, the Next-Generation Transit Survey in the north of Chile.

“This planet is difficult—it is in the middle of the zone where we expected to be Neptune-size planets could not survive,” University of Warwick, professor. Richard West said in a statement. “It is truly remarkable that we found a transiting planet through a star dimming by less than 0.2 [percent] – this has never been done before by ground-based telescopes, and it was great to have after working on this project for a year.”

Exoplanet, NGTS-4b-also known as ‘The Forbidden Planet (Credit: University of Warwick/Mark Garlic)

The Neptunian Desert is an area in space, near a star, where there are no planets that are similar in size and scope of Neptune was already found earlier. Against the odds, NGTS-4b is firmly in this area.

It is unclear why NGTS-4b is able to exist in the Neptunian Desert, but the researchers have two explanations: the involvement of the region in the past 1 million years, or it was very large and the atmosphere is still evaporating.

Thanks to the discovery of NGTS-4b, researchers are going to recheck their data to see if it provides a other surprising finds, West added. “Now, We’re washing our data to see whether we see more planets in the Neptune-Desert—perhaps the desert is greener than ever was imagined.”

The research is published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

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