Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Our new near neighbour, WISE J104915.57-531906

A pair of stars have been identified by NASA's Wide-Field Survey Explorer (WISE) survey which is the third closest system to the Sun. The brown dwarf pair WISE J104915.57-531906 is the closest star system discovered since 1916 and is 6.5 light years away, just a little further out than Barnard's Star. As the stars are brown dwarfs they are small and dim which has meant it has been difficult to detect them until now (and of course means there could be other close bodies yet to be discovered).

The system was discovered by Kevin Luhman at Penn State University who studied images from WISE over a 13 month period, the star system was seen moving quickly across the sky indicating its proximity. Once detected Luhman was then able to other equipment and surveys to measure its distance away and its temperature which was found to be low. Sharper imagery from the Gemini South telescope in Chile also revealed there were two stars not one orbiting each other.
Image credit NASA/JPL-Caltech/Gemini Observatory/AURA/NSF

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