Astronomers find first evidence of water clouds outside our solar system

Posted January 24th, 2019 by admin and filed in 长沙夜网
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Astronomers from the University of California Santa Cruz have detected clouds on a brown dwarf just 7.2 light-years from Earth.

Brown dwarfs are sometimes referred to as “failed stars.” They are large celestial bodies that formed out of gas and dust, with a mass between 15 and 75 times that of Jupiter. But unlike stars, their core could not fuse hydrogen into helium, which is what characterizes a star.

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    Using the Gemini North Telescope in Hawaii, a research team studied the composition of the brown dwarf known as WISE 0855, the coldest-known object outside of our solar system. It’s so cold that even using infrared — which detects heat from objects — it is barely visible. After studying the brown dwarf, they found strong evidence to suggest that WISE 0855 has clouds of water or water ice. This is the first such discovery.

    “We would expect an object that cold to have water clouds, and this is the best evidence that it does,” said Andrew Skemer, assistant professor of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz.

    If Jupiter — the largest planet in our solar system — had 80 times more mass, it could ignite into a star. WISE 0855 has about five times the mass of our largest planet and, though colder, has a similar temperature to that of Jupiter. This makes it an interesting subject for astronomers to study.

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    “Our [observation] shows that WISE 0855 is dominated by water vapour and clouds, with an overall appearance that is strikingly similar to Jupiter,” Skemer said.

    The scientists came to the conclusion after developing atmospheric models of the brown dwarf, which predicted the water vapour.

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