Imagine discovering something that is baffling, something that should not exist in the first place! How would you react? This is precisely the case of NGTS-1b – an exoplanet that is so baffling that scientists are already questioning the known theories of planet formation. What does that mean? It means, we are in for some rehashing of known wisdom in the world of space and universe!
What is NGTS-1b?
NGTS-1b is an exoplanet. Sitting at a distance of 600 light years from our Earth, this exoplanet is located in the Columba constellation. It revolves around the star that is called NGTS-1.
Why the name NGTS-1b?
Wondering why such a weird name? The name comes from Next-Generation Transit Survey or NGTS. NGTS is an array of robotic telescopes with operational band of 600-900 nm. By design, the NGTS is sensitive to host stars that are relatively small and cool but bright stars. It is located in Chile’s ESO’s Paranal Observatory.
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Specifics of NGTS-1b (Discovered in 2017)
This exoplanet is a massive planet. It is 33% wider than our Jupiter but is 20% less massive than Jupiter. It is also a gas giant and has a temperature of 530 degrees Celsius or 800 Kelvin. This helped the planet to make it to the list called ‘HOT JUPITER’.
Hot Jupiter is the generic name given to planets that at least as big as our own Jupiter and NGTS-1b fits the bill perfectly. The NGTS-1b is 2.8 million miles away from the host star named as NGTS-1. The planet orbits the host star in 2.6 Earth days. This means, that a whole year on the exoplanet will last for no more than 2.6 Earth days or 62.4 hours!
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Why is NGTS-1b baffling?
Now comes the fun part. The planet’s size is not impossible because we have Jupiter in our backyard. So, the size of NGTS-1b is just fine. There are a couple of problems though! Those problems are:
- Its size compared to host star: The NGTS-1b is too massive compared to the host star NGTS-1. The host star is a red M-dwarf. Compared to the radius of the host star, 25% bigger! Just to compare, our Jupiter is 10% smaller than the radius of our Sun. This means, that the planet is too big for the host star.
- Distance from host star: Do you know how far is our Earth from our Sun? It is 93 million miles (average). How far is Jupiter from our Sun? It is 484 million miles (average). So, technically a planet as big as NGTS-1b should have a distance of at least 484 million miles from NGTS-1 (the host star). Unfortunately however, that straightforward assumption doesn’t work in this case. The newly discovered exoplanet is merely 2.8 million miles from its host star. This means, its distance from its host star is only 3% of the distance of our Earth from our Sun.
These problems are just too baffling. A star of that size cannot really orbit a star 25% smaller than itself and that too at such short distance! It is actually impossible based on our current knowledge of planet formation.
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How was NGTS-1b discovered?
The NGTS is actually designed to look for distant stars and then search to exoplanets that pass from in front of the host star. When the exoplanets pass from in front of the host star, they make a dark spot on the surface of the star, confirming their presence. NGTS-1b was discovered the same way. However, unlike Tabby’s Star, astronomers from University of Warwick was quick to figure out that NGTS-1b was a gigantic planet and not an energy-collecting Dyson sphere made by aliens. They (the astronomers) noticed that the host star NGTS-1 dims our every 2.6 days and hence, allowed them to make the baffling discovery.
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What astronomers are saying?
Those experts who found the baffling monster planet are saying that red M-dwarfs are the commonest type of stars in our universe and are not easily detected. Now, with NGTS is place, they are expecting to find more such stars and of course, more of such rule or theory-defying astronomical anomalies.