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Planet Smaller Than Neptune Was Identified in the Neptunian Desert

Planet Smaller Than Neptune Was Identified in the Neptunian Desert

That term refers to a phenomenon that astronomers had noticed by which there seemed to be an absence of Neptune-size planets that orbit their star in less than four days. That's why it's been nicknamed the "forbidden" planet by researchers.

"It is right in the zone where we expected Neptune-sized planets could not survive", according to the author of the study, and principle research member from the University of Warwick's physics department, Richard West. This planet hotfoots it around its sun in just 1.34 days.

The planet may have recently wandered from a place much farther away - and found itself in a very bad neighborhood.

Here, planets are blasted with radiation from stars, so the planets can't maintain their gaseous atmosphere. It is also considered extremely hot even for such a small exoplanet, with temperatures reaching about 1,000 degrees Celsius. It's the first planet of its kind that has been discovered in the Neptune Desert. The principle is to rely on the transit method.

They looked for a dip in light from a star as the exoplanet passed across it, during its orbit.

"This planet doesn't have enough mass to hold onto its atmosphere, given the fierce heat from being so close to its star", Coel Hellier, an astronomer at Keele University who wasn't involved in the study, tells Gizmodo. They found it using the Next Generation Transit Survey facility, a robotic planet hunting system located at Paranal Observatory, in the Atacama desert in Chile.

'We are now scouring out data to see if we can see any more planets in the Neptune Desert - perhaps the desert is greener than was once thought'.

The researchers believe that the planet may exist despite its location because it formed elsewhere and migrated into the Neptunian Desert zone within the last million years or so.

Usually only dips of one percent and more are picked up by ground-based searches, but the NGTS telescopes can pick up a dip of just 0.2 percent. This external operation means the NGTS can continuously monitor the brightness of hundreds of thousands of bright stars in the skies of the southern hemisphere to search for exoplanets.

"This planet resides in a region very close to its host star, so close that the planet will receive very strong irradiation from the star, stripping the planet of its atmosphere", SAAO Science Engagement Astronomer Dr Daniel Cunnama told News24 on Thursday. "SALT is not designed for this sort of work, however, the SHOC instrument on the 1.0m telescope is very good at this, and will certainly be involved in following up and detecting future planets around other stars", said Cunnama.

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