Kiwi as­tronomer dis­cov­ers huge planet

Wairarapa News - - FRONT PAGE - PIERS FULLER

A Wairarapa as­tronomer based in Eng­land has dis­cov­ered a ‘‘mon­ster planet’’ or­bit­ing a dwarf star.

Con­tra­dict­ing the­o­ries that a planet of its size could not be formed by such a small star, NGTS-1b is the largest planet com­pared to its star ever dis­cov­ered.

The dis­cov­ery was made us­ing the Next-Gen­er­a­tion Tran­sit Sur­vey (NGTS) fa­cil­ity, de­signed to search for tran­sit­ing plan­ets on bright stars.

Dr Daniel Bayliss, for­merly of Carter­ton, was the lead au­thor of a pa­per re­leased by Univer­sity of War­wick an­nounc­ing the dis­cov­ery.

The dis­cov­ery was a ‘‘com­plete sur­prise’’, he said.

‘‘Such mas­sive plan­ets were not thought to ex­ist around such small stars. 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.

‘‘Our chal­lenge is to now find out how com­mon these types of plan­ets are in the galaxy,’’ Bayliss said.

The planet has a larger di­am­e­ter than our so­lar sys­tem’s largest gas gi­ant Jupiter, but its star is half the size of our sun.

These pro­por­tions are a sig­nif­i­cant dis­cov­ery and, given that this red M-dwarf is the most com­mon type of star in the uni­verse, there could be many more large plan­ets in the uni­verse than pre­vi­ously cal­cu­lated.

To get more in­for­ma­tion about the mass of NGTS-1b, an­other tele­scope was used to ob­serve the os­cil­la­tion of the star. This meant re­searchers were able to cal­cu­late how big and how dense the planet was.

Bayliss said he and the team of 50-odd peo­ple who worked on the pro­ject were very ex­cited to an­nounce the dis­cov­ery.

‘‘Af­ter a cou­ple of years work­ing on it, it is good to get it pub­lished and get it out there.

‘‘It’s exciting and hope­fully there is a lot more to come. The fact that we can see these plan­ets around small stars now gives us hope that we can make real progress into find­ing more of these and work­ing out how many there are. It feels a lit­tle bit like the tip of an ice­berg.’’

Bayliss went to Glad­stone Pri- mary School in ru­ral Carter­ton where he had his first chance to look through a tele­scope.

He later at­tended Rathkeale Col­lege where he was awarded dux. Af­ter sec­ondary school he gained a BSc at Auck­land Univer­sity and hon­ours at Vic­to­ria Univer­sity in Welling­ton.

UNIVER­SITY OF WAR­WICK/MARK GARLICK

An artist’s im­pres­sion of ex­o­planet NGTS1b dis­cov­ered by NZ as­tronomer Daniel Bayliss.

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