‘Monster’ planet discovery offers new insights into planet formation

Posted by ap507 at Oct 31, 2017 10:15 AM |
University of Leicester team involved in discovery

Issued by University of Leicester on 31 October 2017

  • A giant planet – the existence of which previously thought extremely unlikely – discovered around a small star by an international collaboration of astronomers, including researchers at the University of Leicester
  • NGTS-1b is the largest planet compared to the size of its companion star ever discovered in universe – raises interesting questions as to how a planet of this size could have formed around such a small star
  • Discovered using the state-of-the-art Next-Generation Transit Survey observing facility, designed to search for transiting planets on bright stars
  • NGTS-1b is 600 light years away from us – it is a gas giant the size of Jupiter which orbits a star only half the size of our Sun

IMAGES: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/w1ojbleu5texx0u/AAAtfoOUEj9XmcZsia1LYFR2a?dl=0

Please find on the link two artist’s impressions of the planet and its star (credit: University of Warwick/Mark Garlick), plus some images of the NGTS telescopes and their facility, a movie (two different formats) and a picture of some of the Leicester team with one of the NGTS telescopes (left to right Andrew Grange, Dr Mike Goad, Dr Matt Burleigh, and Alex Chaushev).

A giant planet – the existence of which was previously thought extremely unlikely – has been discovered by an international collaboration of astronomers, including researchers at the University of Leicester.

The first planet discovered by the Next-Generation Transit Survey consortium is highly unusual. NGTS-1b is the largest planet compared to the size of its companion star ever discovered in the universe.

NGTS-1b is a gas giant six hundred light years away, the size of Jupiter, and orbits a small star with a radius and mass half that of our sun.

Its existence challenges theories of planet formation which state that a planet of this size could not be formed by such a small star.  According to these theories, small stars can readily form rocky planets but do not gather enough material together to form Jupiter-sized planets.

The planet is a hot Jupiter, at least as large as the Jupiter in our solar system, but with around 20% less mass. It is very close to its star – just 3% of the distance between Earth and the Sun – and orbits the star every 2.6 days, meaning a year on NGTS-1b lasts two and a half days.

The temperature on the gassy planet is approximately 530°C, or 800 kelvin.

Dr Matt Burleigh from the University's Department of Physics and Astronomy, a co-author on the paper and Leicester lead on follow-up studies of the planets found by NGTS, commented: “A huge amount of effort by many people both here at Leicester and at our partner institutions goes into every planet discovery. We are fortunate that NGTS-1b turns out to be so unusual and challenges our current understanding of how planets form.”

The researchers spotted the planet using the state-of-the-art Next-Generation Transit Survey (NGTS) - a wide-field observing facility made of a compact ensemble of telescopes, designed to search for transiting planets on bright stars - run by the Universities of Warwick, Leicester, Cambridge, Queens University Belfast, Observatoire de Genève, DLR Berlin and Universidad de Chile.

The planet orbits a red M-dwarf – the most common type of star in the universe, leading to the possibility that there could be more of these planets waiting to be found by the NGTS survey.

Dr Sarah Casewell, a world leader on cool red stars, the principal targets of the NGTS survey, said: “This is only the third gas giant and the most massive to be discovered around an M dwarf. It is fantastic to see that NGTS is making such ground breaking discoveries so early on in the survey and I am really excited to see what else we will discover.”

NGTS-1b is the first planet outside our solar system to have been discovered by the NGTS facility, which is situated at the European Southern Observatory’s Paranal Observatory in Northern Chile.

Dr Mike Goad, Leicester lead on the calibration of the NGTS cameras and co-author on the paper said: “It is gratifying that the ~two years of effort spent characterizing the performance of the 12 NGTS cameras in our state-of-the-art facilities is starting to pay dividends.”

The researchers made their discovery by monitoring patches of the night sky over many months, and detecting red light from the star with innovative red-sensitive cameras. They noticed dips in the light from the star every 2.6 days, implying that a planet was orbiting and periodically blocking starlight.

Using these data, they then tracked the planet’s orbit around its star and calculated the size, position and mass of NGTS-1b by measuring the radial velocity of the star – finding out how much the star ‘wobbles’ during orbit, due to the gravitational tug from the planet, which changes depending on the planet’s size.

Dr Richard Alexander theoretical astrophysicist at Leicester and co-author on the paper said: "To date most exoplanet surveys have looked at stars like the Sun, but most stars in the Milky Way are much smaller.  Through discoveries like this the NGTS project is opening a new window on the exoplanet population, and will offer key new insights into how planets form and evolve in different environments."

Liam Raynard, a post-graduate student at the University of Leicester working on NGTS discoveries, said: “It is exciting that the first planet discovered by NGTS is so interesting. I look forward to seeing what other discoveries we will make in the near future.”

The team from Leicester comprises:  Dr Mike Goad, Dr Matt Burleigh, Dr Sarah Casewell, Dr Richard Alexander, Alexander Chaushev, Liam Raynard, Andrew Grange.

The research, ‘NGTS-1b: a hot Jupiter transiting an M-dwarf’, is published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.  You can access the paper here: https://arxiv.org/pdf/1710.11099v1.pdf



















NGTS operations and deployment are part-funded by STFC:






  • ST/M002004/1

The Next Generation Transit Survey (NGTS) : Deployment and Operations








Mike Goad and Matt Burleigh are part-funded via an STFC departmental consolidated grant



  • ST/N000757/1

Astrophysics Research at the University of Leicester











For interviews please contact:

Dr Matt Burleigh:


Dr Sarah Casewell:





Dr Richard Alexander:



This study is part of a project that has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No 681601).




































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