Looks like astronomers may have new hunting grounds to search for exoplanets , and it’s close– in fact it’s just in our local interstellar neighbourhood. A new-found star system at only 6.5 light years away now ranks as the third nearest to our solar system and the closest to be discovered since 1917.
An artist’s conception of the new-found brown dwarf binary system with the Sun in the background. Credit: Penn State University.
The new pair of stars are both classified as brown dwarfs– cool, dim objects that actually resemble planets more than stars.
While they do give off heat and have chemical properties like ordinary stars like our Sun, these weird objects are often referred to as ‘failed stars’ since they don’t quite have enough mass that would allow them to be crushed by gravity so that thermonuclear reactions can ignite the hydrogen in their cores.
This diagram illustrates the locations of the star systems that are closest to the Sun. The year when each star was discovered to be a neighbour of the Sun is indicated. The new binary system is the third nearest system to the Sun, and the closest one found in a century. Credit: Janella Williams, Penn State University.
The strange star system, dubbed unromantically WISE J104915.57-531906, was stumbled upon by Kevin Luhman, an astronomer at Penn State University while studying a map of the entire sky stitched together from 13 months of observations obtained by NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) satellite. What clued him in was that one particular star point appeared to have a rapid motion visible through time-lapse images.
There are billions of infrared points of light across the sky, and the mystery is which one- if any of them- could be a star that is very close to our solar system.”
While astronomical distances are vast, this star system is really quite nearby when it comes to our stellar surroundings.
The distance to this brown dwarf pair is 6.5 light years- so close that Earth’s television transmissions from 2006 are now arriving there