A team of researchers from the University of Warwick’s Astronomy and Astrophysics Group has discovered a giant planet orbiting a M-dwarf star. The planet, NGTS-1b is the largest planet ever discovered relative to the size of its companion star.
NGTS-1b is a Jupiter-sized gas giant more than six hundred light years from Earth. The star the planet orbits is comparatively tiny with a mass and radius half that of our own sun. Although the planet is around the same size as Jupiter, it has around 20% less mass. Additionally, NGTS-1b orbits its star in just 2.6 days and the temperature on the planet’s “surface” is around 530°C.
The discovery of NGTS-1b is significant as planet formation theories have long believed that planets of that size could not be formed by such a small star. Scientists have long theorized that small stars are readily able to form rocky planets but could not collect the quantities of material need to form Jupiter-sized planets.
“The discovery of NGTS-1b was a complete surprise to us – such massive planets were not thought to exist around such small stars.” Explained Dr. Daniel Bayliss, the lead author of the groundbreaking paper. “This is the first exoplanet we have found with our new NGTS facility and we are already challenging the received wisdom of how planets form.”
The massive planet was discovered using the New Generation Transit Survey (NGTS), a state-of-the-art wide-field observing facility. NGTS is made up of a compact array of telescopes tasked with searching for transiting planets on bright stars. The telescopes are run by the universities of Warwick, Cambridge, Leicester, Observatoire de Genève, Queen’s University Belfast, Universidad de Chile and DLR Berlin.
With the discovery of NGTS-1b already rewriting our understanding of the universe, researchers are refocusing their efforts to discover other massive planets orbiting small stars. “Our challenge is to now find out how common these types of planets are in the Galaxy, and with the new NGTS facility we are well-placed to do just that,” Bayliss explained.
Image Credit: University of Warwick/Mark Garlick