Science

95 "cool worlds" detected in our solar neighborhood

Astronomers and citizen scientists recently identified cold brown dwarfs near the sun.

More massive than planets but lighter than stars, brown dwarfs are extremely difficult to detect.

If seen close up they would appear magenta or orange-red.

Wikimedia

They give off heat in the form of infrared light — light that is invisible to the human eye but detectable by telescopes.

They're extremely difficult to detect.

Wikimedia

That's why scientists are so excited by new research, published August 20 in The Astrophysical Journal. This discovery of 95 brown dwarfs is the largest published sample of these cosmic bodies made possible by a citizen science project.

NOIRLab/NSF/AURA/P. Marenfeld

NASA

A few of these cool worlds approach the temperature of Earth. It's possible some have water in their clouds.

“These cool worlds offer the opportunity for new insights into the formation and atmospheres of planets beyond the solar system."

— lead author Aaron Meisner from the National Science Foundation’s NOIRLab

More than 100,000 citizen scientists helped make this finding possible, inspecting trillions of pixels of images capture by telescopes like the W.M. Keck Observatory and NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope.

“This collection of cool brown dwarfs also allows us to accurately estimate the number of free-floating worlds roaming interstellar space near the Sun.”

— lead author Aaron Meisner from the National Science Foundation’s NOIRLab

Tap to see a brown dwarf (it's circled). >>

The orange and red colors are indicative of the brown dwarf's low temperature.A. Meisner/NOIRLab/NSF/Aura

Here, the Sun is at the center, the green circles make up the plane of the Milky Way, and the dots correspond to the newly discovered brown dwarfs.

NOIRLabAstro

Ultimately, scientists believing finding and characterizing near-Sun objects like brown dwarfs is critical to gaining an understanding of Earth's place in the universe.

NASA

“Mapping the coldest brown dwarfs down to the lowest masses gives us key insights into the low-mass star formation process while providing a target list for detailed studies of the atmospheres of Jupiter analogs.”

—co-author Jackie Faherty of the American Museum of Natural History.

For more cool space science, click here.

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