Our third closest stellar neighbours - WISE 1049-5319

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

After some disappointment from WISE not having discovered brown dwarfs within a few light years of us, it turns out that this is not quite the case: a pair of brown dwarfs has been discovered just 6.5 light years away. They were actually discovered thanks to WISE data, and the reason for their remaining unknown until now? The two are located in an area very close to the galactic plane, which apparently was not given that close a look during the first look over the data produced by the infrared telescope.

Now that we know about these two nearby (sub-)stellar companions, the next task is to determine what sort of planets orbit them. This is actually an easier task to perform when one is observing a brown dwarf star, since there is no light given off that one has to compensate for, meaning direct observation by any telescope is possible.

This is pretty exciting news for several reasons. For one, it’s always nice (and fun) to discover something surprising, especially when it’s so close. The distance itself is also interesting; if these two stars have planets they’ll be a lot easier to detect than usual because they are so close to us. Plus, the faintness of the stars will make any potential planets easier to see.

Without this one needs a coronagraph for direct imaging of a planet, resulting in something looking like this:


The analogy usually used to explain the difficulty in directly imaging a planet orbiting a star is that it is akin to finding a firefly next to a searchlight on a foggy night (or some other similar analogy), whereas for WISE 1049-5319 it is like finding a firefly next to two larger fireflies we know the location of on a foggy night.

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