Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Astronomers Discover Local Star's Cool Companion

Date:
April 20, 2009
Source:
Royal Astronomical Society
Summary:
Astronomers have discovered one of the coolest sub-stellar bodies ever found outside our own solar system, orbiting the red dwarf star Wolf 940, some 40 light years from Earth.

UKIRT UKIDSS image of Wolf 940A and Wolf 940B.
Credit: UKIRT/JAC

An international team, led by astronomers at the University of Hertfordshire in the UK, have discovered one of the coolest sub-stellar bodies ever found outside our own solar system, orbiting the red dwarf star Wolf 940, some 40 light years from Earth. Dr Ben Burningham of the University of Hertfordshire will present this discovery on Monday 20th April at the European Week of Astronomy and Space Science conference.

"Although it has a temperature of 300 degrees Celsius, almost hot enough to melt lead, temperature is relative when you study this sort of thing, and this object is cool by stellar standards. In fact this is the first time we've been able to study an object as cool as this in such detail", says Dr Burningham, "the fact that it is orbiting a star makes it extra special".

The object is thought to have formed like a star, but has ended up looking more like Jupiter. It is roughly the same size, despite being between 20 and 30 times as heavy, and when the infrared spectral "fingerprints" of the two objects are compared, their resemblance is striking.

The new object orbits its star at about 440 times the distance at which the Earth orbits the sun. At such a wide distance, it takes about 18,000 years to complete a single orbit.

Too small to be stars, so-called "brown dwarfs" have masses lower than stars but larger than gas giant planets like Jupiter. Due to their low temperature these objects are very faint in visible light, and are detected by their glow at infrared wavelengths.

Modelling the atmospheres of cool brown dwarfs is a complex task, but it is key to understanding what we see when we look at planets that orbit other stars. Models of emitted light from such objects, which are dominated by absorption due to water and methane gas, are sensitive to assumptions about their age and chemical make-up.

In most cases astronomers don't initially know much about the age and composition of brown dwarfs and this can make it hard to tell where the models are right, and where they are going wrong.

"What's so exciting in this case, is that we can use what we know about the primary star to find out about the properties of the brown dwarf, and that makes it an extremely useful find", explains Dr Burningham, "you can think of it as a Rosetta Stone for decrypting what the light from such cool objects is telling us".

The object has been named Wolf 940B, after the red dwarf star that it orbits, which was first catalogued by the pioneering German astronomer Max Wolf ninety years ago.

"Red dwarfs are the most populous stars in the Galaxy, and systems like this may be more common than we know" says Dr David Pinfield of the University of Hertfordshire, "As the generation of ongoing large scale surveys continues, we may discover a pack of Wolf-940B-like objects in our solar back yard."

Wolf 940B was initially discovered as part of a major infrared sky survey - the UKIRT Infrared Deep Sky Survey (UKIDSS) which is being carried out using the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope (UKIRT) on Mauna Kea in Hawaii.

The object was found as part of a wider effort to find the coolest and least luminous bodies in our local Galactic neighbourhood, but it was then found to be a companion to the nearby red dwarf Wolf 940 through its common motion across the sky. The data used to confirm the discovery were obtained using telescopes in Chile, the Canary Islands and Hawaii.

Its temperature was then confirmed using data from the Gemini-North telescope on Mauna Kea. The team's findings will soon be published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Following its discovery with ground based telescopes, Wolf 940B, has since been observed by the NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, and the findings from those observations will be published later this year.

"This object is going to continue to provide insights into the processes of cool brown dwarf, and warm planetary atmospheres for some time to come", says Dr Sandy Leggett, of the Gemini Observatory, "finding it was just the first step".


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Royal Astronomical Society. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Royal Astronomical Society. "Astronomers Discover Local Star's Cool Companion." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 April 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/04/090419210430.htm>.
Royal Astronomical Society. (2009, April 20). Astronomers Discover Local Star's Cool Companion. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/04/090419210430.htm
Royal Astronomical Society. "Astronomers Discover Local Star's Cool Companion." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/04/090419210430.htm (accessed July 21, 2014).

Share This




More Space & Time News

Monday, July 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Neil Armstrong's Post-Apollo 11 Life

Neil Armstrong's Post-Apollo 11 Life

Newsy (July 19, 2014) Neil Armstrong gained international fame after becoming the first man to walk on the moon in 1969. But what was his life like after the historic trip? Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
This Week @ NASA, July 18, 2014

This Week @ NASA, July 18, 2014

NASA (July 18, 2014) Apollo 11 yesterday, Next Giant Leap tomorrow, Science instruments for Europa mission, and more... Video provided by NASA
Powered by NewsLook.com
45 Years Later, Buzz Aldrin on Walking on Moon

45 Years Later, Buzz Aldrin on Walking on Moon

AP (July 18, 2014) Forty-five years ago Sunday, Apollo 11's Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to set foot on the moon. Speaking at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, Aldrin described what he was thinking right before the historic walk. (July 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Orbital Cargo Ship Reaches International Space Station

Orbital Cargo Ship Reaches International Space Station

AFP (July 16, 2014) Orbital Sciences Corporation's unmanned cargo ship arrived Wednesday at the International Space Station carrying a load of food and equipment for the six-man crew at the research outpost. Duration: 00:33 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins