Feeds

NASA spots 'new' star just 7.2 light years away

Brown dwarf is coldest sun we've ever seen

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

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. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
MARS NEEDS WOMEN, claims NASA pseudo 'naut: They eat less
'Some might find this idea offensive' boffin admits
LOHAN crash lands on CNN
Overflies Die Welt en route to lively US news vid
Comet Siding Spring revealed as flying molehill
Hiding from this space pimple isn't going to do humanity's reputation any good
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
No sail: NASA spikes Sunjammer
'Solar sail' demonstrator project binned
Carry On Cosmonaut: Willful Child is a poor taste Star Trek parody
Cringeworthy, crude and crass jokes abound in Steven Erikson’s sci-fi debut
Origins of SEXUAL INTERCOURSE fished out of SCOTTISH LAKE
Fossil find proves it first happened 385 million years ago
Human spacecraft dodge COMET CHUNKS pelting off Mars
Odyssey orbiter yet to report, though - comet's trailing trash poses new threat
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.