Astronomers have discovered an extremely hot ‘forbidden’ planet in the Neptunian Desert. The exoplanet is larger than Earth and smaller than Neptune.

NGTS-4b also known as ‘The Forbidden Planet’ is three times the size of Earth and 20% smaller than Neptune. It orbits its star in 1.3 days. An international collaboration of astronomers, with the University of Warwick taking a leading role, has discovered the rogue planet.

Researchers have published their story in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

The rogue planet is the first kind astronomers have found in the “Neptunian Desert”. That is an area close to stars where no Neptune-sized planets have been detected.

Here, stars blast their planets with radiation, so the planets can’t maintain their gaseous atmosphere. Therefore, they evaporate, leaving behind just a rocky core. However, NGTS-4b still has an atmosphere of gas. The temperature on this exoplanet is about 1000 degrees Celsius.

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Researchers suggest that either the planet moved into this region within the last million years, or the planet itself was once bigger and the atmosphere is in the process of evaporating.

“This planet must be tough – it is right in the zone where we expected Neptune-sized planets could not survive,” said Richard West in a statement, study author and principal research fellow from the University of Warwick’s department of physics.

“It is truly remarkable that we found a transiting planet via a star dimming by less than 0.2% – this has never been done before by telescopes on the ground, and it was great to find after working on this project for a year.”

The announcement comes on the heels of last week’s discovery of 18 Earth-sized exoplanets.

The team of astronomers led by Dr. Richard West including Professor Peter Wheatley, Dr. Daniel Bayliss, and Dr. James McCormac from the Astronomy and Astrophysics Group at the University of Warwick, has used the Next-Generation Transit Survey (NGTS) observing facility to spot the small rogue planet.

NGTS is located at the European Southern Observatory’s Paranal Observatory in the heart of the Atacama Desert, Chile. It is a collaboration between UK Universities Warwick, Leicester, Cambridge, and Queen’s University Belfast, together with Observatoire de Genève, DLR Berlin and Universidad de Chile.

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