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Astronomers Find 'Forbidden Planet'

It's an exoplanet extremely close to a star
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted May 30, 2019 8:27 AM CDT
Stock image.   (Getty/AlxeyPnferov)

(Newser) – You can call it NGTS-4b if you're being formal, but astronomers have given their unprecedented new discovery a much sexier name—the Forbidden Planet. The reason for a label right out of a sci-fi thriller is that this exoplanet has been found where scientists didn't think one could exist, in what's known as the Neptunian Desert, reports Australia's ABC. The latter term doesn't refer to some region of the planet Neptune, as CNN explains. Rather it refers to the principle that a gaseous planet about the size of Neptune—as is the case here—should not be able survive in close proximity to a star. But the Forbidden Planet is "freakishly close" to its host star, per Gizmodo. In fact, it takes only 1.3 days to complete an orbit, meaning a year on this planet is, yes, 1.3 days, says University of Warwick researcher Daniel Bayliss.

"So far, people (who) were searching for planets haven't found planets like this," says Bayliss. "So this discovery came as a surprise to us." Astronomers have previously figured that if a Neptune-like planet was this close to a star, the star's radioactivity would wipe out its atmosphere. Not so in the this case. "This planet must be tough—it is right in the zone where expected Neptune-sized planets could not survive," says another researcher, Richard West, per a news release. One possibility is that the exoplanet has moved into this region relatively recently, and its atmosphere is still in the process of being bombarded. For the record, the Forbidden Planet is 920 light-years from Earth, three times bigger than our planet, and extremely hot, with a surface temperature of 1,832 degrees Fahrenheit. (SpaceX's latest launch could be a game-changer.)

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