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Space Science

Rogue Brown Dwarf Lurks In Our Cosmic Neighborhood 188

Posted by Soulskill
from the brown-dwarf-rogue-lurks-in-ironforge dept.
astroengine writes "The UK Infrared Telescope in Hawaii has discovered a lone, cool brown dwarf called UGPSJ0722-05. As far as sub-stellar objects go, this is a strange one. For starters, it's the coolest brown dwarf ever discovered (and astronomers using the UKIRT should know; they are making a habit of finding cool brown dwarfs). Secondly, it's close. In fact, it's the closest brown dwarf to Earth, at a distance of only 10 light years. And thirdly, it has an odd spectroscopic signature, leading astronomers to think that this might be the discovery of a whole new class of brown dwarf."
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Rogue Brown Dwarf Lurks In Our Cosmic Neighborhood

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  • by Coraon (1080675) on Friday April 09, 2010 @04:24PM (#31794318)
    I believe at currently achievable theoretical speeds we might be able to make it there with like a robotic probe in 100 years or less!
    • by tmosley (996283) on Friday April 09, 2010 @04:31PM (#31794416)
      You think we can send a probe an average of 1/10th C, including acceleration and slowdown?
      • by Coraon (1080675)
        a friend of mine who works with JPL, was talking with me and said that it was possible, but would take far more money then the well planet would be willing to spend, but apparently the science is there. now as for speed up and slow down, well I'll admit I didn't factor that in, the point is that its still going to take several lifetimes worth of time for this to matter.
        • I'd be curious to know what technology he is talking about. Do you think you could get the name(s) of whatever types of things he is thinking of for me? I'd like to do some further research.
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by linzeal (197905)
            Project Orion [wikipedia.org] is the only one I have ever heard of that claims such speeds.
            • by sznupi (719324)

              Light sail, etc. propulsion powered by beamed energy can have even greater speed than Orion (light sail doesn't have to carry it's own fuel) and be significantly cheaper. Plus the most expensive and massive part of infrastructure stays in the Solar System and can be used for more than one probe.

              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_sail [wikipedia.org]
              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Starwisp [wikipedia.org]
              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnetic_sail [wikipedia.org]

              I can see us doing such mission perhaps in lifetimes of some of us...

              • by GigaplexNZ (1233886) on Friday April 09, 2010 @11:06PM (#31797648)
                Wouldn't solar sails fail to work once you reach the Heliopause [wikipedia.org]?
                • by Rakishi (759894)

                  Solar sails are based on light and not the solar wind. Light does not stop and the heliopause does not matter. It does however start weak and gets horribly weak horribly quickly.

                  That is why any decent velocity system requires and uses giant ass lasers in the solar system for light instead of the sun.

                  • Even though it uses light and not solar winds, an equivalent concept of a Heliopause would probably still take effect (the closer you get to the other star the more its light counters Sol). Using an interstellar laser to push it isn't really practical as at those distances it becomes horribly difficult to aim the laser with such precision. Assuming your laser could aim precisely, by the time you realise you are pointing in the wrong direction and make a correction, it will take years for the correction to t
                    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                      by RockDoctor (15477)

                      Even though it uses light and not solar winds, an equivalent concept of a Heliopause would probably still take effect (the closer you get to the other star the more its light counters Sol).

                      True, but not particularly important. Most of the benefit of the "launching lasers" you get by getting up to a high speed fairly soon, reducing your time of flight. If you're only (or largely) powered by launching lasers and solar sails, then you'll be expecting to have an asymmetric journey in both distance and time, bec

                    • by jesset77 (759149)
                      Meb not, but we've got the lowest pingtimes, so we don't have to wait! For frost psot! xD
            • by Rei (128717)

              Why do people always bring up Orion? Medusa completely supercedes it in every way.

              And anyway, that's just one of a plethora of high-ISP propulsion methods. Solar sails, various types of magnetic sails, various types of microfission and microfusion (both antimatter-initiated or otherwise), pure antimatter, various larger scale fusion designs, fission fragment (including a favorite of mine, the dusty plasma fission fragment rocket), nuclear saltwater, and on and on.

          • by sznupi (719324)

            Patience would work, too...Gliese 710 will be probably less than 1 light year away very soon.

            At least, "very soon" in cosmological terms (a little over 1 million years iirc)

          • by Rakishi (759894)

            Orion/nuclear pulse propulsion would I think give around 0.04c at best using existing technology. If you got some sort of fussion working Project Daedalus was expected to give 0.12c.

            A solar sail with some sort of laser/lens system in the solar system is also possible. Horribly inefficient and expensive given existing technology but I don't think it's theoretically impossible. This might give you something like 0.2c or more.

            Nuclear salt-water rocket is another option but it only gives you 0.036c at best. Als

            • by nofx_3 (40519)

              "A solar sail with some sort of laser/lens system in the solar system is also possible. Horribly inefficient and expensive given existing technology but I don't think it's theoretically impossible. This might give you something like 0.2c or more."

              Yeah, but how do you stop?

              • by Rakishi (759894)

                Ooops, when I said one way trip I instead meant a flyby mission. So to stop you make sure you don't miss the star itself.

                If you do want to survive the experience there's I think a few options:
                * Magnetic sail to brake against the target star's magnetosphere
                * An outer sail that detaches near the destination and reflects backs light onto an inner sail. See wikipedia [wikipedia.org].

            • by Rei (128717)

              I believe that one antimatter-initiated microfusion rocket design was also supposed to be able to get up into the 0.1c range while still providing good thrust. Fission fragment rockets might be another good possibility if they can get enough thrust.

        • by MBGMorden (803437)

          I sort of doubt it. Building things is cheap (relatively). The $$$$ really comes in with R&D - aka figuring out how to do it in the first place. If we already knew how to do it then we would. If it's a matter of investing in R&D, then he's really just saying that he thinks it could be done, not that the tech already exists.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Rakishi (759894)

            There is a big difference between the basic technology existing and a practical device using that technology existing. The Apollo project didn't cost $80 billion because the technology was revolutionary. It cost $80 billion because getting something that big to work properly is in itself a massive pain in the ass even if you have all the technology. Hell, just recreating the Apollo project would probably cost close to $80billion without blueprints and we already did it once before. Essentially it's an engin

      • by WCMI92 (592436) on Friday April 09, 2010 @04:45PM (#31794644) Homepage

        You think we can send a probe an average of 1/10th C, including acceleration and slowdown?

        Theoretically possible using a nuclear power source and ion propulsion. Probably would be decades before we could practically do it, but the idea isn't outside the realm of possibility starting with existing technology...

        It'd be a lot easier though to try this with Alpha Centauri though. It's only 4 light years away, not 10.

        This is an interesting find though. Given the lack of planets or sign of the remnants of the formation of a star/planetary system I'd say this thing is definitely a rogue, that formed in another planetary system that was ejected by gravity. Brown dwarfs actually are able to do deuterium (lower mass ones) and even lithium fusion (higher mass ones) for a short period of time (100MY or so for the fuel to run out) but this one may be too small to have done either.

        We certainly are going to discover a lot more of these as we get better and better instruments. They are likely very common, and we are likely to see the discovery of tons more brown dwarfs and very low mass red dwarfs in the coming decades. What is fascinating would be to know exactly where the line is between a very low mass red dwarf that can initiate and sustain core hydrogen fusion and a brown dwarf that either never starts core hydrogen fusion or cannot sustain it.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by K. S. Kyosuke (729550)
          An ion engine? Hardly. BTW, the cheapest way for a long, long time will probably be a reaaally large space-based telescope somewhere far away to keep it nice and cold. Not cheap in absolute terms, but certainly cheaper than any kind of interstellar probe.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by RockDoctor (15477)

            BTW, the cheapest way for a long, long time will probably be a reaaally large space-based telescope somewhere far away to keep it nice and cold. Not cheap in absolute terms, but certainly cheaper than any kind of interstellar probe.

            For certain meanings of "long time" : I'm a geologist, and my meaning of "long time" is rather different to the meaning of a Thai bar girl telling me that she'll "love me long time". Though our meanings of "love" are probably more-or-less congruent. I see your "long time" and won

      • by ushering05401 (1086795) on Friday April 09, 2010 @04:52PM (#31794782) Journal

        Slowdown? We won't get military support that way, therefore no funding. We smash something into it at maximum speed and let the military gather transport and devastation metrics from a collision involving speeds never before recorded by human instruments.

        Then the astronomers study the ejecta, the engineers review vehicle performance metrics, the doomsday prophets rework their asteroid impact models, the cosmologists continue to try to convince their mother-in-laws that they really are cosmologists despite not knowing anything about t-zones, foundation blending, manicuring, waxing.... and no, that doesn't mean they went to a bad 'school of cosmology.'

        • by corbettw (214229)

          You jest, but any probe sent that far away is going on a one-way mission, anyway. So why not orbit it a bit and then smash into it and see what happens (presumably after jettisoning the sensor and communications package so we can send data back to earth)?

        • by roc97007 (608802)

          > the cosmologists continue to try to convince their mother-in-laws that they really are cosmologists despite not knowing anything about t-zones, foundation blending, manicuring, waxing.... and no, that doesn't mean they went to a bad 'school of cosmology.'

          Sounds personal...

          I had a friend who was a microwave communications engineer. His grandmother persisted in believing he worked on ovens.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by sznupi (719324)

        If we would really want to we can get rid of the slow down by simply performing a flyby. Who knows how acceptable the former would be of course, considering the limited science and that such mission wouldn't get funding very often...

        • by RMingin (985478)

          At 0.1C, that'll be a HELL of a flyby. Anybody have enough napkins to figure out the gravity cone and slingshot distances for that speed? My math broke when I tried.

        • by Rei (128717)

          Another option (not really, but just considering it for fun) would be a REALLY extreme form of aerocapture. Basically, not aiming to shoot past the star, but through it. ;) The problem is that your target has a diameter of ~150,000,000 meters and you're going at 30,000,000 meters per second, so even if you went right through the center of the target star, you'd only have five seconds to slow down before you're out the other side ;)

          Oh, and then there's that whole pesky heating thing. Ignoring relativity,

      • by EdZ (755139)
        No slowdown, but acceleration could be done with a Sundiver. Basically, you take your solar sail, drop it into an orbit that dips it almost to the surface of the sun, then deploy the sail. The combined solar wind and intense sunlight accelerate your probe up to some pretty impressive speeds.
      • by geekoid (135745)

        Absolutely, and we should..

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Waffle Iron (339739)

      To paraphrase Yogi Berra: In theory, currently achievable theoretical speeds are achievable. In reality, they aren't.

    • The fastest probe we've ever launched went about 1/1000 c, not 1/10c. You're off by two orders of magnitude.

      If we had the ability to go that fast, we would already have a probe on its way to alpha proxima.

    • Yes, in 100 years or less we may be able to make a robot probe that could get there.

  • Just need to clean their telescope!

    • The UK's Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC - note similarity to STFU) decided not long ago, in its infinite wisdom, that UKIRT - the UK's national infrared telescope, and the 2nd-largest telescope in the world devoted to infrared astronomy - didn't actually need to keep getting any funding. This latest chunk of interesting/meaningful science or "stuff that matters" shows how myopic that kind of move is.

      (And I'm not just saying that because I once observed on UKIRT...)

  • Hmmm... (Score:2, Funny)

    by chadplusplus (1432889)
    Ten light years away... How far out does the Oort cloud extend? Its NEMESIS!!
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by tmosley (996283)
      1/3rd of a light year. The brown dwarf is about 2.5 times further than the nearest bright star, Alpha Centauri. Definitely not inside of the solar system, but well within our cosmic neighborhood.
    • Sorry, even the most extreme projections for the Oort cloud have it within three light years, and most put it a mere light year out. No Nemesis for you.
    • Re:Hmmm... (Score:4, Interesting)

      by chadplusplus (1432889) on Friday April 09, 2010 @04:41PM (#31794566)
      Well, according to wikipedia, the largest estimates put the Oort cloud out at 3.6 light years, so this brown dwarf is probably too far away to perturb the Oort cloud, but as an aside observation: If the Sun's oort cloud is 3.5 light years in radius, and Proxima Centuari is only 4.2 light years away, and assuming Proxima Centuri has its own oort cloud (if it didn't get swept away by the gravitational interaction of the multiple stars), would our system's outer members and Proxima's outer members intermingle? IIRC, the Oort cloud objects aren't necessarily on the plane on the system.
      • by DrVxD (184537)

        would our system's outer members and Proxima's outer members intermingle? IIRC, the Oort cloud objects aren't necessarily on the plane on the system.

        Intermingling of members? That sounds like gay porn on a galactic scale!

      • by rsborg (111459)
        What if the Oort cloud is actually spread throughout entire known universe (ie, dark matter) What if the heliosheath, the magnetic/radiation field generated by our sun, is our effective "deflector shield" that keeps the solar system as serene as it is? We need to develop better instrumentation and send probes to be able to find this out (when we get data from one of the Voyagers that goes past the bow shock, we'll probably find out clearly).
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Albinoman (584294)

          The Oort cloud is a lot of minuscule particles of ices of different forms (not all water ice). If it were everywhere we'd surely notice this rather thick nebula permeating the universe. We wouldn't see Andromeda much less take the Hubble Deep Field.

      • assuming Proxima Centuri has its own oort cloud

        Qzk'nx78 is not at all happy about you renaming his cloud.

    • by sznupi (719324)

      Certainly not Nemesis; the concept of latter assumes that the "rogue companion" is gravitationally bound to the Solar System...indeed is part of the Solar System.

      This new brown dwarf...we're just passing it.

    • So that's 10 light years in two years to arrive in time for causing the end of the world in 2012, quite a speed.

  • Are they saying this is thought to be the only brown dwarf (thus far) to have water vapor and methane due to its low temperature? Or are they saying this is the only brown dwarf close enough to detect such things?
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by osu-neko (2604)

      Neither. They're saying it's the only brown dwarf to, well, let me just quote them:

      Oddly, when looking at the spectrum from UGPSJ0722-05, there is an anomalous absorption line (i.e. a particular wavelength in the electromagnetic spectrum that is missing) that cannot be explained by our current understanding of brown dwarfs. Perhaps the UKIRT has discovered a new breed of brown dwarf; a very cool object with some chemical in its atmosphere that absorbs infrared radiation at a wavelength of 1.25 micrometers.

      Aside from the expected water vapor and methane, they've found this other absorption line pointing to something new and different from previous brown dwarves.

    • No, it's just swamp gas. Nothing to see here, carry on.

  • by Craig Maloney (1104) * on Friday April 09, 2010 @04:27PM (#31794354) Homepage

    Just waiting for the Nibiru and Planet X quacks to say "See? We told you so!".

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nibiru_collision [wikipedia.org]

    • by FudRucker (866063)
      it will give all those whackos on CoasttoCoastAM something to talk about for weeks.
    • by roc97007 (608802)

      Yeah, but, being ten light years away, it's going to have to really scoot to be here by 2012.

      • I'm sure there will be a logical and rational explanation for why "Nibiru" didn't arrive until ~100 years too late (assuming it's even aware it has an appointment). :)

  • Probably has water (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Meshach (578918) on Friday April 09, 2010 @04:27PM (#31794358)
    FTA:

    Using the Gemini Observatory, follow-up spectroscopic analysis has detected methane and water vapor in its atmosphere

    I think that the discovery of water is very interesting. And with organic compounds existing there (in the liked article) this could be a very important discovery in our quest to understand the universe.

    • by BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) on Friday April 09, 2010 @04:54PM (#31794814) Homepage Journal
      On top of that,

      It could have a surface temperature as low as 400 Kelvin, even cooler than the team's previous record of slightly below 500 K

      That's only ~127 Celsius, 27 degrees above water's boiling point. That temperature range is far from uninhabitable. Combine the organic compounds with methane and water and a relatively moderate surface temperature and I would say that we have a prime example of one very possible location for life outside of our own solar system. That's pretty damn exciting.

      • That's only ~127 Celsius, 27 degrees above water's boiling point.

        Unless the surface of it just happens to have an atmospheric pressure of 1,013.25 hectopascals that is incorrect. Water boils at 100C at our sea-level atmospheric pressure. At the top of Mount Everest it's only 69C.

        While the temperature may be survivable, there's no guarantee that water will be anything but gas at the surface.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Lord Ender (156273)

          Hm? Wouldn't one expect a star to have a much denser atmosphere due to the high gravity?

          • I would think so too. Oddly enough brown dwarfs always have a radius comparable to Jupiter, but the mass is going to be many times greater (has to be at least 13 Jupiter masses to be considered a brown dwarf).
          • It's been quite a while since I studied physics (high school), but I'm fairly certain that the density of an atmosphere isn't a function of the gravity of the body.

            Compare Venus and Earth
            Gravity:
            Earth: 1g,
            Venus: 0.904 g

            Atmospheric pressure at surface
            Earth: 1.013.25 hPa
            Venus: 93,000 hPa

            Mean surface temperature:
            Earth: 287K
            Venus: 735K

            Water's boiling point at surface:
            Earth: 373K
            Venus: 556K (I think. Had to calculate it, as I couldn't find any easy look-up tables for it)

            Anyway, the point is that an atmosphere's

      • Chemical Life ON a star, that is pretty darned mind blowing!

        What about if there was a companion planet that orbited closely around it? Life could live there as the energy could come from tidal heating and IR radiation from the Brown Dwarf.

  • by SailorSpork (1080153) on Friday April 09, 2010 @04:27PM (#31794362) Homepage

    I like how the title implies that having "rogue" brown dwarf "lurking" close by is some sort of security threat. WATCH OUT, IT MAY HAVE WMD'S!!!!!111one

    I think we should greet it with open arms and set up McDonald's and Starbuck's franchises as soon as we can to show it that we welcome it as a neighbor!

    • by Jeng (926980)

      If an object such as this drifted into our solar system it could very possibly be the end of us all.

      It could come into contact with the Earth or one of the other planets in the solar system knocking planets out of orbit. It doesn't even need to actually make contact to toss a planet out of its orbit even.

      If an object such as this drifted into our solar system we might as well party till we die cause there won't be much that we could do to prevent our demise.

      Image the Earth drifting out beyond the Oort Clou

      • by DrVxD (184537)

        Fortunately, it's 10 light years away - so even if it were heading for us, by the time it gets here everyone who's reading this will be long gone.

      • What makes you think any of that shit is likely to happen? I mean, there's a star that's much bigger and twice as close.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by MiniMike (234881)

      I think we should greet it with open arms and set up McDonald's and Starbuck's franchises as soon as we can to show it that we welcome it as a neighbor!

      That will only greatly increase its mass and make it more dangerous!

    • I like how the title implies that having "rogue" brown dwarf "lurking" close by is some sort of security threat. WATCH OUT, IT MAY HAVE WMD'S!!!!!111one

      Security threat? It depends. A dwarf rogue...are these often chaotic evil or what?

    • > WATCH OUT, IT MAY HAVE WMD'S

      If it had nukes it would be a star, not a brown dwarf.

    • by Teun (17872)

      I think we should greet it with open arms and set up McDonald's and Starbuck's franchises as soon as we can to show it that we welcome it as a neighbor!

      Yeah and they have WIFI!

      But I worry about the ping times...

  • What about calling it Nemesis [wikipedia.org]? Maybe is not as close as it is supposed to be, but is the best candidate so far.
  • by DRAGONWEEZEL (125809) on Friday April 09, 2010 @04:33PM (#31794452) Homepage

    He's the coolest brown dwarf I know of too, but how did he get out there?

  • Pretty close... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Notquitecajun (1073646) on Friday April 09, 2010 @04:36PM (#31794492)
    This chart http://www.astro.wisc.edu/~dolan/constellations/extra/nearest.html [wisc.edu] lists the closest objects to earth. The brown dwarf (being a failed brown dwarf and found recently...howzabout calling it FAIL) is about the 12th closest object to our solar system.
  • For starters, it's the coolest brown dwarf ever discovered

    Maybe to astronomers, but most people will think it's pretty lame.
  • Well, there's goes the cosmic neighborhood...

  • by jameskojiro (705701) on Friday April 09, 2010 @05:29PM (#31795350) Journal

    Just wait till we start getting results back from WISE, we may find some Brown Dwarfs that are close than this and maybe even some that are gravitationally bound to our own sun making us a binary or trinary system....

    I think it would be cool if we found a brown dwarf closer than 1LY fron earth that we could use as a testing ground for interstellar probes.

  • Me: UGPSJ0722-05.
    UGPSJ0722-05: We meet again.
    Me: It's been a long time.

  • that's no brown dwarf!

  • It's "unconventional height-challenged person of color," and they don't lurk, they add diversity to our neighborhood!

  • Is it rouge, or is it brown?

    Oh. Never mind.

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