Feeds

NASA spots 'new' star just 7.2 light years away

Brown dwarf is coldest sun we've ever seen

Intelligent flash storage arrays

Distant and dim, the brown dwarf WISE J085510.83-071442.5 (snappy name, there) could well have passed unnoticed since it's not large enough to ignite nuclear fuel to radiate visible light.

However, NASA's WISE (Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer) has spotted it, and further work by the Spitzer Space Telescope yielded a surprise: it's the coldest brown dwarf discovered so far, with a surface temperature of between -48 and -13°C, or -54 and -9°F.

At 7.2 light years distant, it's nearly twice as far away as our nearest neighbour Alpha Centauri, but in astronomical terms, it's still pretty intimate with our system – it's the fourth-closest object to the solar system so far identified.

The combination of its infrared light, which of course is what WISE looks for, plus its relatively quick motion across the sky – a function of its proximity – are what made it possible for the object to be spotted, NASA says.

Pennsylvania State University astronomer Kevin Luhman spotted the motion in March 2013, and then analysed images taken Spitzer and by the Gemini South telescope in Chile. The additional data yielded the surprisingly cold temperature of the object, as well as a fix on its distance.

NASA GIF of new brown dwarf

NASA's animation of the object,

combining WISE and Spitzer images

Luhman is quoted in the release as saying “It's very exciting to discover a new neighbor of our solar system that is so close. And given its extreme temperature, it should tell us a lot about the atmospheres of planets, which often have similarly cold temperatures.”

At between 3 and 10 times the mass of Jupiter, WISE J085510.83-071442.5 is also one of the least massive discovered so far, small enough that there's a chance it's a gas giant planet similar to Jupiter that's been ejected from its system. However, since brown dwarfs are far more common, that's the explanation preferred by Luhman. ®

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

More from The Register

next story
GRAV WAVE DRAMA: 'Big Bang echo' may have been grit on the scanner – boffins
Exit Planet Dust on faster-than-light expansion of universe
Mine Bitcoins with PENCIL and PAPER
Forget Sudoku, crunch SHA-256 algos
SpaceX Dragon cargo truck flies 3D printer to ISS: Clawdown in 3, 2...
Craft berths at space station with supplies, experiments, toys
NASA rover Curiosity drills HOLE in MARS 'GOLF COURSE'
Joins 'traffic light' and perfect stony sphere on the Red Planet
'This BITE MARK is a SMOKING GUN': Boffins probe ancient assault
Tooth embedded in thigh bone may tell who pulled the trigger
DOLPHINS SMELL MAGNETS – did we hear that right, boffins?
Xavier's School for Gifted Magnetotaceans
Big dinosaur wowed females with its ENORMOUS HOOTER
That's right, Doris, I've got biggest snout in the prehistoric world
Japanese volcano eruption reportedly leaves 31 people presumed dead
Hopes fade of finding survivors on Mount Ontake
That glass of water you just drank? It was OLDER than the SUN
One MEELLION years older. Some of it anyway
prev story

Whitepapers

A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.