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The Coldest Brown Dwarf

From APOD yesterday:

This cosmic snapshot composed with image data from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) satellite captures a multitude of faint stars and distant galaxies toward the constellation Lyra at wavelengths longer than visible light. But the object circled at the center is not quite a star. Cataloged as WISE 1828+2650, it lies within 40 light-years of the Sun and is currently the coldest brown dwarf known. A brown dwarf begins like a star, with the gravitational collapse of a dense cloud of gas and dust, but is not massive enough to achieve the core temperatures and densities that trigger hydrogen fusion, the stable source of a star’s energy. Instead the failed star ultimately cools and emits most of its light at infrared wavelengths. Remarkably, brown dwarfs are roughly the size of the planet Jupiter. How cold is WISE 1828+2650? While brown dwarfs have measured surface temperatures of up to 1,400 degrees C (2,600 degress F), this brown dwarf , assigned to spectral class Y, has the estimated temperature of a warm room, less than about 27 degrees C (80 degrees F).

NASA describes the WISE mission to find brown dwarfs and its results:

Scientists using data from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) have discovered the coldest class of star-like bodies, with temperatures as cool as the human body.

Astronomers hunted these dark orbs, termed Y dwarfs, for more than a decade without success. When viewed with a visible-light telescope, they are nearly impossible to see. WISE’s infrared vision allowed the telescope to finally spot the faint glow of six Y dwarfs relatively close to our sun, within a distance of about 40 light-years.

Of the 100 brown dwarfs, six are classified as cool Y’s. One of the Y dwarfs, called WISE 1828+2650, is the record holder for the coldest brown dwarf, with an estimated atmospheric temperature cooler than room temperature, or less than about 80 degrees Fahrenheit (25 degrees Celsius).

“The brown dwarfs we were turning up before this discovery were more like the temperature of your oven,” said Davy Kirkpatrick, a WISE science team member at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif. “With the discovery of Y dwarfs, we’ve moved out of the kitchen and into the cooler parts of the house.”

Kirkpatrick is lead author of a paper appearing in the Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series, describing the 100 confirmed brown dwarfs. Michael Cushing, a WISE team member at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., is lead author of a paper describing the Y dwarfs in the Astrophysical Journal.

The Y dwarfs are in our sun’s neighborhood, from approximately nine to 40 light-years away. The Y dwarf approximately nine light-years away, WISE 1541-2250, may become the seventh closest star system, bumping Ross 154 back to eighth. By comparison, the star closest to our solar system, Proxima Centauri, is about four light-years away.

“Finding brown dwarfs near our sun is like discovering there’s a hidden house on your block that you didn’t know about,” Cushing said. “It’s thrilling to me to know we’ve got neighbors out there yet to be discovered. With WISE, we may even find a brown dwarf closer to us than our closest known star.”

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Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

August 31, 2011 at 2:46 pm

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