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Space & Astronomy

Water clouds discovered on brown dwarf

By T.K. Randall
August 29, 2014 · Comment icon 7 comments

Water clouds could be commonplace on distant worlds. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Astronomers have found evidence of water clouds outside of our own solar system for the first time.
Located at a distance of just 7.3 light years from the Earth, the clouds are situated in the atmosphere of a brown dwarf and were first identified by astronomer Kevin Luhman using NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) telescope.

A brown dwarf is a type of failed star that has too little mass to sustain nuclear reactions. This particular one is about the size of Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system.
While the discovery is still being regarded as "tentative" at the moment, astronomers are quietly confident that this relatively nearby extrasolar body is indeed home to water ice clouds.

"I've been obsessed with this object since its discovery," said astronomer Jacqueline Faherty. "At the telescope, I've never been so nervous. I've never wanted clear conditions so badly."

While the temperatures and atmosphere on the brown dwarf are extremely unlikely to be suitable for life, the discovery still represents a significant step forward in the hunt for habitable worlds.

Source: CBS Local | Comments (7)




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Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #1 Posted by bubblykiss 10 years ago
Common sense tells me that if it happened here then it happened elsewhere...however, it is always exciting to think about discoveries like this one.
Comment icon #2 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf 10 years ago
Th3 "like Earth" in the title is pushing it a bit. A brown dwarf is an object very unlike Earth. These objects are half-way between a giant planet and a very small star. Too small for their core to ignite and undergo nuclear fusion but large enough that they generate heat in their core by a process called the Kelvin–Helmholtz mechanism: gravitational compression of the core generates heat. This internal heat can mean that the outer atmosphere can (as seems to be the case here) by similar to that of Earth's, but that is where the similarity ends. Like a gas giant planet there will be no solid... [More]
Comment icon #3 Posted by StRoostifer 10 years ago
Eek, its Nibiru, run for the hills! Jupiter is supposed to be 300X the mass of earth and this brown dwarf is up to 10X the mass of Jupiter! Whoa mama! Pretty cool stuff.
Comment icon #4 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf 10 years ago
Jupiter is supposed to be 300X the mass of earth and this brown dwarf is up to 10X the mass of Jupiter! Whoa mama! A mass 3,000 x the Earth makes it a rather unimpressive object astronomically speaking. The Sun is a dwarf star and that has a mass 333,000 times that of Earth.
Comment icon #5 Posted by paperdyer 10 years ago
A mass 3,000 x the Earth makes it a rather unimpressive object astronomically speaking. The Sun is a dwarf star and that has a mass 333,000 times that of Earth. Probably so, but with the gravitation pull the brown dwarf would have, we'd have a hard time exploring the dwarf from the surface.
Comment icon #6 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf 10 years ago
we'd have a hard time exploring the dwarf from the surface. Gravity is irrelevant, as it's basically a big ball of warm gas it doesn't actually have a surface to explore.
Comment icon #7 Posted by taniwha 10 years ago
I wonder what life on these brown dwarfs might look like.


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