November 29, 2009

Could NASA Wide Infrared Survey Explorer Find Close Brown Dwarf ?

Ray Villard, at Discover Channel blogs, about NASA's WISE mission (Wide Infrared Survey Explorer).

Ray predicts two potentially news breaking headlines from WISE (and no doubt there will be other stories too). The first would be the discovery of an entirely new class of dark astronomical object that has previously escaped detection. Since I can’t imagine what that could be, there isn't much more I can say except to expect the unexpected.

The other headline would be the discovery of a brown dwarf that is even closer to Earth than the nearest star, the Alpha Centauri system at 4.3 light-years. Brown dwarfs are objects that form along with stars but do not have enough mass to trigger or sustain nuclear fusion. They are so cool and dim very little is known about their distribution in the galaxy.

Exoplanet candidates have been found orbiting three brown dwarfs so far.

Any cryoworlds around a neighboring dwarf would be an unlikely place to look for life. Brown dwarfs cool off quickly. The coolest found so far is at 700 degrees Fahrenheit. But if Jupiter’s moon Europa is any example, brown dwarf planets could have subsurface oceans kept warm by gravitational tidal interactions with the dwarf or other planets

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