A group of international astronomers said they have spotted a “Forbidden” planet closely orbiting a star. The newly discovered world is three-times the size of Earth and 920 light-years away from our planet.

This exoplanet was found in the Neptune Desert, a zone previously thought to be hostile to gaseous Neptune-like planets. This was most startling for the team of astronomers to find a new world in an orbit that was previously thought to be impossible.

The sighting of this previously unknown exoplanet challenges the scientists’ understanding of the stars and solar systems. Their latest discovery implies that there could be other Earth-like planets hidden in nearby star systems in our cosmos.

A paper of their study and their discovery of the exoplanet NGTS-4b was published in the monthly announcements of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Smaller than Neptune, this exoplanet orbits unusually close to a star outside the solar system. Assistant professor from the Department of Physics at the University of Warwick Daniel Bayliss described the unusual characteristics of the exoplanet.

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“This planet is very, very close to its star. In fact, it orbits its star every 1.3 days. So, a year on this planet is only 1.3 days. So, that gives you some sense of how close it is to the star,” said Bayliss.

He continued saying, “And when you’re that close to a star, then you get a lot of radiation from the star and it’s enough to strip off the layers of an atmosphere on a planet that’s about the size of Neptune.”

Bayliss and his team believe the temperature on this new world is about 1,000 degrees Celsius. He mentioned the uniqueness and the exoplanet got its nickname—the ‘Forbidden’ planet.

“So far, people were searching for planets haven’t found planets like this. And we thought that was because a planet about the size of Neptune, this close to the host star would get evaporated,” said Bayliss.

Bayliss stated that their latest discovery has come as a surprise for the entire team. “And previous surveys have indeed found no planets in this zone. That’s why it got called the Neptune Desert or the Forbidden Zone,” said Bayliss.

The existence of the “Forbidden planet” and its location in the Neptune Desert baffles the group of astronomers.

This is because it was previously believed that no exoplanets with gas atmospheres that orbit so close to a star—in a region known as the Neptunian Desert—could exist, as the gas would evaporate, leaving behind a rocky core.

 

The Next-Generation Transit Survey (NGTS) range of 12 telescopes is located in Chile’s Atacama Desert, May 30, 2019. (ESO/G. Lambert)

 

Bayliss offered difference explanations about this unusual phenomenon. “For this ‘Forbidden Planet’ to exist at all, there must be something else going on that we haven’t quite worked out.”

“It’s possible that the system is very young, and it just hasn’t had time to evaporate off the planet,” speculated Bayliss. “Or perhaps the planet has just moved in there quite recently,” stated the enquiring scientist.

“Another possibility is that the star is just not emitting the radiation that we thought and somehow it hasn’t been enough to evaporate the planet,” continued Bayliss.

The team of astrophysicists or star watchers discovered the existence of the exoplanet using the Next-Generation Transit Survey (NGTS), an array of 12 20-centimeter telescopes at the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) Paranal Observatory in Chile’s Atacama Desert.

Includes reporting from The Associated Press

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