NGTS-1b: 'Monster' Planet Too Big To Exist Baffles Scientists

A "monster" planet so massively large in comparison to its star that it contradicts everything we thought we knew about planets and their formation has been discovered.

The planet, NGTS-1b, is the biggest planet ever discovered in comparision to the star it orbits. Its existence throws into question much of what we know about what can and cannot occur in the great abyss of space.

Traditionally, scientists believed small stars—like the one NGTS-1b orbits—are unable to create anything but small rocky planets. A new study, which is due to be published online in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society proves this wrong.

Researchers from the University of Warwick in England reveal that NGTS-1b is a gassy planet about the size of Jupiter, but its star, a red M dwarf—the most common type of star—is only half the size of our Sun.

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The planet was discovered using highly advanced Next-Generation Transit Survey (NGTS) and is about 600 light years away from Earth. This is a wide-field observing tool composed of multiple telescopes. It was specifically designed to search for transiting planets on bright stars. Still, despite using the most state-of-the-art technology available in star searching, discovering NGTS-1b was no easy feat.

giant planet sunrise A year on NGTS-1B only lasts about a day and a half. University of Warwick/Mark Garlick

"NGTS-1b was difficult to find, despite being a monster of a planet, because its parent star is small and faint,” explained study researcher Peter Wheatley, from the University of Warwick in a statement. “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.”

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Apart from its size, NGTS-1b is also remarkable for just how close it is to its tiny star. The planet is 3 percent of the distance between Earth and the Sun and orbits the star every 2.6 days. This means that a year on the gas giant only lasts two-and-a-half days. But it is NGTS-1b's sheer existence that is truly monumental, as it shows that the rules we once thought governed planet formation really are not as clear-cut as scientists once believed.

"The discovery of NGTS-1b was a complete surprise to us—such massive planets were not thought to exist around such small stars,” said lead study author Daniel Bayliss in a statement. “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.”

giant planet tiny sun The planet is massive in comparison to its small star. University of Warwick/Mark Garlick

The team now hopes to use NGTS to discover more of these cosmic anomalies and unexpected planet types. “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. I'm looking forward to seeing what other kinds of exciting new planets we can turn up,” Wheatley said. 

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