back to article NASA spots 'new' star just 7.2 light years away

Distant and dim, the brown dwarf WISE J085510.83-071442.5 (snappy name, there) could well have passed unnoticed since it's not large enough to ignite nuclear fuel to radiate visible light. However, NASA's WISE (Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer) has spotted it, and further work by the Spitzer Space Telescope yielded a …

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  1. Caaaptaaaain kick arse

    Distant and dim

    Sounds like my school report, circa 1980 something

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  2. frank ly Silver badge

    Why is it warm?

    What process keeps it at such a relatively high temperature?

    1. Steven Roper

      Re: Why is it warm?

      Gravity compresses its gases, compression heats gases up. Same reason why the Earth's core is so hot - compression from the weight of all that rock on top of it.

      Jupiter is the same as well; it actually emits more energy in the form of heat than it gets from the Sun.

      1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

        Re: Why is it warm?

        For a planet, gravity also releases gravitational potential energy and the gases are mildly radioactive. These are certainly reckoned to be the important factors for Earth (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earth%27s_internal_heat_budget) and are presumably even more important for a gas giant because gas is a rather better conductor of heat (via convection) than solid rock.

        1. Nigel 11

          Re: Why is it warm?

          There's a third possible heat source: a matter phase change in the core. Inside the earth, a solid(ish) iron(ish) core is believed to be crystallizing as an on-going process, and releasing heat as it does so. Heaven only knows what corresponding process might be going on in the core of a brown dwarf.

      2. Loyal Commenter Silver badge
        Boffin

        Re: Why is it warm?

        Before things like radioactivity were known about, Lord Kelvin estimated the age of the Earth, based upon the cooling of the inside of the planet, after having been heated up by the compression of formation, at 100 million years. We now know this was a little bit out (by around 1.5 orders of magnitude) - and that heat from radioactive decay plays a significant role.

        Other factors affecting celestial bodies can include gravitational effects from companion bodies (for example Jupiter's moon Io is very volcanic because it has an elliptical orbit around its parent planet which squishes and squashes it).

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Holmes

          Re: Why is it warm?

          "because it has an elliptical orbit around its parent planet which squishes and squashes it"

          I'm glad you used the "technical content" icon, I had to go and look that up on Wikipedia before I had a clue what you meant.

          1. NoneSuch

            Re: Why is it warm?

            "I'm glad you used the "technical content" icon, I had to go and look that up on Wikipedia before I had a clue what you meant."

            If you looked it up on Wikipedia, there's a 30% chance you still don't know what he meant.

  3. Flatpackhamster

    Solid surface?

    Does that mean that it'll have a solid surface rather than a liquid one? Or a solid crust with liquid oceans of something or other? Or will it be a gigantic Jupiter?

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: Solid surface?

      At 3-10 times the size of Jupiter, I imagine it is a gas giant.

      Lord Kelvin estimated that Earth's "heat of formation" would have taken about 100Mya to wear off. A rocky planet 3-10 times the size of Jupiter would have a surface area to volume ratio many times less than Earth and so would presumably cool more slowly. I think the surface would still be molten.

      1. mhenriday
        Boffin

        Re: Solid surface?

        From what I am given to understand, this body, with a mass some 3 - 10 times that of Jupiter, would, in fact, possess a volume or «size» less than that of the latter planet. Choosing to call it a brown dwarf rather than a Jovian body due to what is believed to be the greater frequency of the former in the galaxy seems odd to me ; unless there is something in its spectral distribution which indicates otherwise, as a body of less than 13 Jupiter masses, it would hardly seem to qualify as a brown dwarf....

        Henri

        1. mr.K

          Re: Solid surface?

          Is Jovian body an actual thing? I have heard about Jovian planet, but this is clearly not a planet. We could classify it as a rouge planet, but should the past history of a body really determine it's class instead of it's actual current situation? And it wouldn't make it a Jovian planet anyway, since jovian planets are planets while rouge planets are not. Like dwarf planets are not planets.

          As I understand it, in astronomy they make up terms as more and more information come to light, and they also need to revisit earlier definitions to see if they are sensible and useful in describing the universe as it actual turns out to be, not how it was perceived ten or fifty years ago. Brown dwarfs seem to be one of those they are debating. Personally I am in favour of too low mass to sustain hydrogen-1 fusion, but high enough that have or had some type of fusion going at some point.

          But then we need a new word for all those minor systems that is probably scattered all over the place. May I coin black dwarf?

  4. Tom 7 Silver badge

    Intergallactic Log

    There is a cloaked spaceship out there that dropped this bit of blue ice...

  5. hammarbtyp Silver badge
    Joke

    PC

    Shouldn't it be called a brown mass-challenged object in these PC times

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: PC

      But it's frankly difficult to toss.

  6. TheFinn

    aha

    Mr Luhmen. Get it?

  7. Neil Barnes Silver badge
    Coat

    Brown dwarf?

    By those images, it's blue...

  8. Len Goddard

    Pedantry

    Mine, that is.

    "At 7.2 light years distant, it's nearly twice as far away as our nearest neighbour Alpha Centauri,"

    No it isn't. This mistake is commonly repeated (I've seen it on the Reg before). Alpha Centauri isn't even a star, it is a binary system. The closest star is Proxima Centauri which may or may not be gravitationally bound to the Alpha Centauri binary.

    1. Mage Silver badge
      Headmaster

      Re: Pedantry

      But Proxima Centauri might be a member of Alpha Centauri "cluster".

      Proxima Centauri is very likely part of a triple star system with Alpha Centauri A and B.

      Of course wiki may be wrong ...

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proxima_Centauri

  9. despun

    bloke's got previous

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WISE_1049-5319

  10. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
    Happy

    with a surface temperature of between -48 and -13°C

    So even though it's an X-Factor contestant of an excuse for a star, and it's miles from anywhere - it's still warmer and sunnier than Skegness...

    Smiley face, as the sun has got his brown hat on.

  11. Mage Silver badge
    Flame

    Light blue touch paper?

    So how much additional mass / gas would result in fusion?

    1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

      Re: Light blue touch paper?

      http://scienceworld.wolfram.com/astronomy/BrownDwarf.html

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

        Re: Light blue touch paper?

        1 monolith will do.

  12. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Thumb Up

    Astonishing something so close should not have been detected till now.

    I think that's a great counter to the "It's all been found/done" sense of ennui people sometimes get.

    Great way to start the week.

  13. Scroticus Canis Silver badge
    Facepalm

    WHAT STAR? Misleading headline again.

    Brown dwarfs are sub-stellar objects with too little mass to ignite hydrogen fusion. Stars are massive enough to ignite hydrogen fusion (proton - proton cycle) and are fully convective.

    @Mage - about 0.08 solar masses then proper hydrogen fusion may start.

    1. Bunbury

      Re: WHAT STAR? Misleading headline again.

      Pedantry alert. Some stars may be fully convective but not all. Some mix convection and radiation in shifting heat

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    small enough that there's a chance it's a gas giant planet similar to Jupiter that's been ejected from its system. However, since brown dwarfs are far more common, that's the explanation preferred by Luhman

    If they're so hard to detect that it's taken us this long to detect it, how do they know that brown drawfs are far more common, there might be twice as many gas giant planets as brown drawfs, we just can't see them.

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      About 25 years ago, in a lecture that had strayed onto the subject of Dark Matter, our prof suggested that the true explanation might not be the various forms of exotic, supersymmetric or wacko particles that were then in vogue. It might just be a lot of bog-standard matter, too cool to see. I think he was semi-serious. This is the sort of stuff he had in mind, but I don't know how common these objects would have to be in order to make the numbers work.

      1. NoneSuch

        "This is the sort of stuff he had in mind, but I don't know how common these objects would have to be in order to make the numbers work."

        A lot.

        "Only about 4% of the total energy density in the universe (as inferred from gravitational effects) can be seen directly. About 22% is thought to be composed of dark matter. The remaining 74% is thought to consist of Dark energy, an even stranger component, distributed diffusely in space."

        http://www.universe-galaxies-stars.com/Dark_matter.html

        1. Duncan Macdonald Silver badge

          MoND ?

          Unless the MoND theory is correct in which case the dark matter is no more real than phlogiston.

          (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modified_Newtonian_dynamics for more info)

  15. Dr Patrick J R Harkin

    I have a bad feeling about this...

    "Neighbours of the star told our reporters 'We didn't see him much. Quiet type. He always kept himself to himself but as soon as we heard about the rogue asteroids wiping out the dinosaurs I just knew it had to be him."

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: I have a bad feeling about this...

      "And then he wired $8000 to Star Qaeda"

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