So how do you find something in space if there isn’t a bright star nearby to light it up? The answer: heat. The Spitzer telescope studies the infrared light—read heat—given off by objects in space, and recently we found something pretty awesome! We have a new neighbor.
Located only 7.2 light years away from good old Earth, object WISE J085510.83-071442.5 now ranks as the fourth closest object to our solar system. That’s basically across the street.
So just what is our neighbor? Well, that’s kind of hard to say. You see, it’s giving off its own heat with a maximum temperature of around 9 degrees fahrenheit, so its possible that it is a brown dwarf. A brown dwarf is a protostar which failed to gather enough mass to heat up all the way to sustainable fusion. Scientists only discovered the first brown dwarf in 1965, although they are thought to be extremely common. However, scientists have estimated the mass of our new neighbor to be only about 3 to 10 times that of Jupiter, which would make it the smallest and coldest brown dwarf ever discovered. So it’s possible that our new neighbor is actually a gas giant planet which once orbited another star but was then ejected to wander in the dark of interstellar space.
Whoever the new neighbor is, it’s pretty cool that we found him when he wasn’t shining brightly in our night sky. We have to do something about that name, though. WISE J085510.83-071442.5 just doesn’t roll off the tongue. Any ideas?