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Space Science

Rogue Brown Dwarf Lurks In Our Cosmic Neighborhood 188

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 @03:24PM (#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!
  • Probably has water (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Meshach ( 578918 ) on Friday April 09, 2010 @03:27PM (#31794358)

    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.

  • Re:Hmmm... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by chadplusplus ( 1432889 ) on Friday April 09, 2010 @03:41PM (#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 WCMI92 ( 592436 ) on Friday April 09, 2010 @03:45PM (#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.

  • by BJ_Covert_Action ( 1499847 ) on Friday April 09, 2010 @03:54PM (#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.

  • by jameskojiro ( 705701 ) on Friday April 09, 2010 @04:29PM (#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.

  • by zeropointburn ( 975618 ) on Friday April 09, 2010 @09:20PM (#31797448) Journal

    Don't let the next sentence scare you off.
      I have read the Bible from cover to cover, both King James and Strong's Concordance (though not all of the ridiculously exhaustive supplementary material in that one). Most of what I hear from modern Christians does not blend with what I took from those readings. This includes apocalypse beliefs. For starters, the Bible implies a period of 1,000 years for the end of Earth to take place (not that biblical time spans mean anything), and mentions several events that would be fairly obvious.

      Finding nearby objects of interest is worth hearing about. Having another stellar object that close is bound to be useful for astronomy. Consider this, though: if we could miss this brown dwarf until now (even using gravitational investigation), we could have missed one even closer. Since we have closer objects to visit, why don't we start with a probe (or a set of probes) to the Oort cloud? Let's get some more specific density and composition and orbit data on these things. Lots of ice? Cool, destabilize big chunks of it and send them to Mars or something. Long-term, obviously, but there is a lot that we do not know about that region of our solar system.

  • Re:Hmmm... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Albinoman ( 584294 ) on Friday April 09, 2010 @11:30PM (#31797978)

    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.

  • by RockDoctor ( 15477 ) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @11:09PM (#31804880) Journal

    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 wonder if the duration would really be noticeable.
    The process of putting the bigger and bigger telescopes progressively further and further away will of course give us experience in several incrementally important technologies : those of making and moving big things in space, and those of keeping people in a habitable environment in space for longer and longer periods of time. By the time that we're putting the third Outer Kuiper Telescope in place, each one of which involves sending a ten-person crew on a three year mission to the outer edge of the Kuiper Belt, then the prospect of sending ten consecutive thirty-person trips on thirty year missions to Proxima Centauri would appear considerably less daunting.
    The interstellar trip would appear even less daunting if they knew that two ten-person inhabitation modules (a standard design, with a hundred-year proven working life) had arrived and gone into a parking orbit at Proxima, and that another four modules are in flight, due to arrive before they do with additional ones being launched every second year thereafter until Proxima Colony tells Old Home Terra to stop throwing tin cans. The automated solar cell (hmmm, that name will have to change!) factory might also be in flight, so the first things to do on arrival at Proxima would be to collect several gigatonnes of iceballs for reaction mass (just like refuelling the reactors for the Outer Kuiper Telescope), and then settle down to breeding and building another asteroid civilisation. Planets? Well, if there are any, they might get colonised one day, but the important things would need to be done first. After all, terraforming is really hard, and it's hard to envisage how the original Earthlings did it without modern technology.

    The technologies necessary to real long-distance space travel are far more likely to appear incrementally than as a result of some huge politically-inspired push. The only thing that's likely to provide that sort of push at the moment is an incoming "dinosaur killer", and by the time that we've got twenty permanently-inhabited space stations, that is unlikely to be much of a real threat. Otherwise, it's the old "boiled frog" combination of overpopulation and overconsumption that are going to kill your species.

I don't want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve immortality through not dying. -- Woody Allen