Shocking "Forbidden Planet" With Atmosphere, Discovered In The Neptunian Desert

NGTS-4b is now the only planet to retain its atmosphere of gas despite being in such an inhospitable environment in space.

An exoplanet that's smaller than Neptune and also has its very own atmosphere has been discovered in the Neptunian Desert by an worldwide collaboration of astronomers. Being so close to the star means it is heated to a scorching 1,000 degrees Celsius (1,830 degrees Fahrenheit, ) but despite this, it still retains its own atmosphere.

Researchers hope this is just the beginning for locating planets in the Neptune desert. It orbits its star in what is known as the Neptunian Desert, an area where planets of its ilk can not remain stable.

"When looking for new exoplanets we look for a dip in the light of a star - this the planet orbiting it and blocking the light", the astronomers said.

Something unusual has to be happening for The Forbidden Planet to still have its atmosphere. Astronomers discovered the rogue planet by using the Next-Generation Transit Survey (NGTS) observing facility at European Southern Observatory's Paranal Observatory in Chile.

The search is now on to find other examples, hopefully leading to a much clearer view of the Neptunian Desert and the limitations of planet formation. Since Neptune is a gas giant, basically just one big atmosphere with only a very tiny rocky core, Neptune couldn't exist there. Instead, it's a region close to stars where Neptune-sized planets can't be found.

NGTS-4b is an exoplanet that's 20% smaller than Neptune, but still three times the size of Earth.

The researchers dubbed NGTS-4b as the "The Forbidden Planet" since it was located in an area of space not really known to have such kinds of worlds.

Planet NGTS-4b, nick-named "The Forbidden Planet", was confirmed by researchers using the South African Astronomical Observatory's (SAAO) Sutherland High-speed Optical Cameras (SHOC) 1.0m telescope.

Dr. Richard West of the University of Warwick led the team in finding NGTS-4b.

Astronomers have spotted a mysterious "forbidden" planet in an area around its star where planets should see their atmosphere boiled away by radiation. Usually, dips of 1% and more can be picked up by ground-based searches, but the NGTS telescopes can pick up a dip of just 0.2%. "It is truly remarkable that we found a transiting planet via a star dimming by less than 0.2%". And we thought that was because a planet about the size of Neptune, this close to the host star would get evaporated.

"Since this transit is so shallow, NGTS-4b wasn't initially one of our top priority targets". He said the region may even be a lot greener than scientists initially thought.


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