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Space Science

Frigid Brown Dwarf Found Only 7.2 Light-Years Away 142

An anonymous reader writes "Astronomer Kevin Luhman just found the 7th closest star to the sun. It's a mere 7.2 light-years away, discovered using NASA's Spitzer and WISE telescopes. How could it exist so close for so long without us knowing? It's a brown dwarf — barely a star at all. 'Brown dwarfs are star-like objects that are more massive than planets, but not quite massive enough to ignite sustained fusion in their cores. Hydrogen fusion is what powers the Sun, and makes it hot; it's the mighty pressure of the Sun's core that makes that happen. Brown dwarfs don't have the oomph needed to keep that going.' This small almost-star is downright chilly at around 225-260 Kelvin. That's -48 to -13 C (or -54 to 9 F). As Phil Plait points out, that's not much different from the temperature in the freezer in your kitchen. He adds, 'It implies this object is very old, too, because it would've been a few thousands degrees when it formed, and would take at least a billion years to cool down to its current chilly temperature. It's hard to determine how old it actually is, but it's most likely 1-10 billion years old. It has a very low mass, too, probably between 3 and 10 times the mass of Jupiter. That's pretty lightweight even for a brown dwarf. And here's another amazing thing about it: It might be a planet. What I mean is, it may have formed around a star like a planet does, then got ejected by gravitational interactions with other planets.'"
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Frigid Brown Dwarf Found Only 7.2 Light-Years Away

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  • by olsmeister ( 1488789 ) on Saturday April 26, 2014 @01:59PM (#46848681)
    That would make it a rogue planet [wikipedia.org].
  • by LifesABeach ( 234436 ) on Saturday April 26, 2014 @02:13PM (#46848777) Homepage
    My personal experiences, have been very much, the opposite.
  • by Blaskowicz ( 634489 ) on Saturday April 26, 2014 @02:14PM (#46848797)

    That's part of the MACHO hypothesis regarding dark matter. We could explain away dark matter with trillions of brown dwarfs but that doesn't seem satisfactory for astronomers and cosmologists. For some reason (big bang and cosmic background calculations etc.) we know think that baryonic (regular matter) is only about 4% of the universe's amount of mass-energy and about 25% of non-baryonic dark matter is needed to make it all fit. Not enough baryonic matter to have enough brown dwarfs playing the role of dark matter in/around galaxies.

  • by Quantum_Infinity ( 2038086 ) on Saturday April 26, 2014 @02:18PM (#46848811)
    Kudos for writing 225-260 Kelvin and not 'degree Kelvin' or 'Kelvins' in the summary. Slate f'ed up though. They wrote 'Kelvins'. I have seen even reputable scientific writings using degrees prefix with Kelvin. It's very disheartening to see that even some scientists don't get it that you don't use degrees when talking about absolute temperature.
  • by Jeremy Erwin ( 2054 ) on Saturday April 26, 2014 @02:43PM (#46848935) Journal

    From an authoritative and current source [bipm.org]

    It follows that the thermodynamic temperature of the triple point of water is exactly 273.16 kelvins, Ttpw = 273.16

    If the BIPM can't be bothered,I don't see why the rest of us should follow your prescription.

  • by AthanasiusKircher ( 1333179 ) on Saturday April 26, 2014 @03:15PM (#46849093)

    Kudos for writing 225-260 Kelvin and not 'degree Kelvin' or 'Kelvins' in the summary. Slate f'ed up though. They wrote 'Kelvins'.

    Umm, sorry, but you're wrong. As an SI unit, a "kelvin" (yes, with a lowercase k) is pluralized using the same grammatical rules as others (e.g., volts, ohms, etc.). Its abbreviation is an uppercase K.

    So, "225-260 kelvins" or "225-260 K" is correct, according to official SI standard.

    If you want to be pedantic, be sure you have a clue concerning what you're talking about.

    (And regardless, I think this is a rather stupid thing to get too pedantic about. The previous standard, before 1968, referred to it as "degrees Kelvin" just like all the other temperature standards. I understand that the SI conventions are trying to maintain consistency across all units, but it's weird when that also results in breaking consistency with all other units that deal with the same type of measurement. I'm not saying it's wrong, and official scientific documents shoudl get it right, but in normal language... I think this is a rather silly think to get worried about, since it actually breaks other linguistic conventions of standard language.)

  • Re:Nearest Star? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 26, 2014 @04:50PM (#46849525)
    The Sun is ~1 AU away, the three Alpha Centauri stars are 4.24 to 4.37 l.y. away, Bernard's star is just under 6 l.y. away, and the two Luhman 16 brown dwarfs are just over 6.5 l.y. away. The position of Earth in its orbit is not enough to make any of those exceed 7.2 light years. this is either the 8th closest star that we know of, or it is not considered a star at all if you don't want to count brown dwarfs (or might be pushing the lower limit of what is a brown dwarf).
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 26, 2014 @04:55PM (#46849539)
    It is not just the comological level, but searches have been done for small objects roaming around the galaxy by looking for micro lensing events and occlusion events where rogue planets or objects move in front of other stars. If a large portion of the missing mass needed for the galaxy rotation curve were these planets, you can work out the chances of such objects passing in front of the stars being observed for such effects, and find that we should have seen way more than was actually observed.

Research is what I'm doing when I don't know what I'm doing. -- Wernher von Braun