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Huge ‘monster’ planet could challenge scientists’ theory of how worlds form

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A huge “monster” planet that’s far too big for its sun could lead scientists to rethink their theories of astronomy.

The planet, known as NGTS-1b, is the size of Jupiter, but it orbits around a red dwarf star that’s only half the size of its sun.

Scientists not only didn’t predict that such a massive planet would be able to orbit such a small star, but it contradicts some of the predictions at the heart of their understanding of how planets form. The mysterious, challenging solar system is 600 light years from Earth and the ratio between the star and the planet is the most unusual ever discovered.

Dr Daniel Bayliss, from the University of Warwick, who led the team of astronomers, said: “The discovery of NGTS-1b was a complete surprise to us. Such massive planets were not thought to exist around such small stars.

“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.”

NGTS-1b was spotted using the Next-Generation Transit Survey (NGTS), a robotic array of telescopes in Chile’s Atacama desert designed to search for exoplanets passing in front of their parent stars. The “hot Jupiter” gas giant is very close to its star, just 3 per cent of the distance between the Earth and the sun, and makes one orbit every 2.6 days. It has a surface temperature of around 530C.

Professor Peter Wheatley, also from the University of Warwick, who heads the NGTS, 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. Having worked for almost a decade to develop the NGTS telescope array, it is thrilling to see it picking out new and unexpected types of planets.”

(A report on the discovery is due to appear in the journalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.)

Updated: November 2, 2017 — 4:07 pm

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