Astronomers create first map of weather on nearby brown dwarf star

Jan. 29, 2014 at 5:11 PM
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GARCHING, Germany, Jan. 29 (UPI) -- Astronomers say they've used a telescope in Chile to create the first-ever map of the weather on the surface of the nearest brown dwarf star to Earth.

An international team using the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope has created a chart of the dark and light features on Luhman 16B, one of two recently discovered brown dwarfs forming a pair only 6 light-years from the sun.

Brown dwarfs fall between giant gas planets such as Jupiter and Saturn and faint cool stars, lacking sufficient mass to initiate nuclear fusion in their cores and thus only glowing feebly at infrared wavelengths of light.

Astronomers have been able to map out dark and light features on the surface of Luhman 16B, a release from ESO headquarters in Garching, Germany, said Wednesday.

"Previous observations suggested that brown dwarfs might have mottled surfaces, but now we can actually map them," said Ian Crossfield of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany.

"Soon, we will be able to watch cloud patterns form, evolve, and dissipate on this brown dwarf -- eventually, exometeorologists may be able to predict whether a visitor to Luhman 16B could expect clear or cloudy skies," he said.

The atmospheres of brown dwarfs are very similar to those of hot gas giant exoplanets, the researchers said, so studying comparatively easy-to-observe brown dwarfs may yield insights into the atmospheres of young, giant planets.

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