The closest star system found in a century

Mar 11, 2013 by Barbara K. Kennedy
A pair of newly discovered stars is the third-closest star system to the Sun and the closest discovered since 1916. At 6.5 light years, it is so close that Earth's television transmissions from 2006 are now arriving there. It is an excellent hunting ground for planets because it is very close to Earth and, in the distant future, it might be one of the first destinations for manned expeditions outside our solar system. The discovery was made by Kevin Luhman, an associate professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State University and a researcher in Penn State's Center for Exoplanets and Habitable Worlds. In this image, the star system, WISE J104915.57-531906, is at the center of the larger image, which was taken by the WISE satellite. It appeared to be a single object -- but a sharper image from the Gemini Observatory revealed that it is a binary star system. Credit: NASA/JPL/Gemini Observatory/AURA/NSF

(Phys.org) —A pair of newly discovered stars is the third-closest star system to the Sun, according to a paper that will be published in Astrophysical Journal Letters. The duo is the closest star system discovered since 1916. The discovery was made by Kevin Luhman, an associate professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State University and a researcher in Penn State's Center for Exoplanets and Habitable Worlds.

Both stars in the new are "brown dwarfs," which are stars that are too small in mass to ever become hot enough to ignite . As a result, they are very cool and dim, resembling a giant planet like Jupiter more than a bright star like the Sun.

WISE J104915.57-531906 was discovered through its rapid motion across the sky, which is shown in these images taken between 1978 and 2010 by the Digitized Sky Survey, the Two Micron All-Sky Survey, and the WISE satellite. Credit: NASA/STScI/JPL/IPAC/University of Massachusetts

"The distance to this brown dwarf pair is 6.5 light years—so close that Earth's television transmissions from 2006 are now arriving there," Luhman said. "It will be an excellent hunting ground for planets because it is very close to Earth, which makes it a lot easier to see any planets orbiting either of the brown dwarfs." Since it is the third-closest , in the distant future it might be one of the first destinations for manned expeditions outside our solar system, Luhman said.

The star system is named "WISE J104915.57-531906" because it was discovered in a map of the entire obtained by the NASA-funded Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) satellite. It is only slightly farther away than the second-closest star, Barnard's star, which was discovered 6.0 light years from the Sun in 1916. The closest star system consists of Alpha Centauri, found to be a neighbor of the Sun in 1839 at 4.4 light years, and the fainter Proxima Centauri, discovered in 1917 at 4.2 light years.

A pair of newly discovered stars is the third-closest star system to the Sun and the closest discovered since 1916. At 6.5 light years, it is so close that Earth's television transmissions from 2006 are now arriving there. It is an excellent hunting ground for planets because it is very close to Earth and, in the distant future, it might be one of the first destinations for manned expeditions outside our solar system. The discovery was made by Kevin Luhman, an associate professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State University and a researcher in Penn State's Center for Exoplanets and Habitable Worlds. This diagram illustrates the locations of the star systems that are closest to the Sun. The year when each star was discovered to be a neighbor of the Sun is indicated. The binary system WISE J104915.57-531906 is the third nearest system to the Sun, and the closest one found in a century. Credit: Janella Williams, Penn State University

Edward (Ned) Wright, the principal investigator for the WISE satellite, said "One major goal when proposing WISE was to find the closest stars to the Sun. WISE 1049-5319 is by far the closest star found to date using the WISE data, and the close-up views of this binary system we can get with big telescopes like Gemini and the future James Webb Space Telescope will tell us a lot about the low mass stars known as brown dwarfs." Wright is the David Saxon Presidential Chair in Physics and a professor of physics and astronomy at UCLA.

Astronomers have long speculated about the possible presence of a distant, dim object orbiting the Sun, which is sometimes called Nemesis. However, Luhman has concluded, "we can rule out that the new brown dwarf system is such an object because it is moving across the sky much too fast to be in orbit around the Sun."

To discover the new star system, Luhman studied the images of the sky that the WISE satellite had obtained during a 13-month period ending in 2011. During its mission, WISE observed each point in the sky 2 to 3 times. "In these time-lapse images, I was able to tell that this system was moving very quickly across the sky—which was a big clue that it was probably very close to our solar system," Luhman said.

After noticing its rapid motion in the WISE images, Luhman went hunting for detections of the suspected nearby star in older sky surveys. He found that it indeed was detected in images spanning from 1978 to 1999 from the Digitized Sky Survey, the Two Micron All-Sky Survey, and the Deep Near of the Southern Sky. "Based on how this star system was moving in the images from the WISE survey, I was able to extrapolate back in time to predict where it should have been located in the older surveys and, sure enough, it was there," Luhman said.

A pair of newly discovered stars is the third-closest star system to the Sun and the closest discovered since 1916. At 6.5 light years, it is so close that Earth's television transmissions from 2006 are now arriving there. It is an excellent hunting ground for planets because it is very close to Earth and, in the distant future, it might be one of the first destinations for manned expeditions outside our solar system. The discovery was made by Kevin Luhman, an associate professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State University and a researcher in Penn State's Center for Exoplanets and Habitable Worlds. This image is an artist's conception of the binary system WISE J104915.57-531906 with the Sun in the background. Credit: Janella Williams, Penn State University

By combining the detections of the star system from the various surveys, Luhman was able to measure its distance via parallax, which is the apparent shift of a star in the sky due to the Earth's orbit around the Sun. He then used the Gemini South telescope on Cerro Pachón in Chile to obtain a spectrum of it, which demonstrated that it had a very cool temperature, and hence was a brown dwarf. "As an unexpected bonus, the sharp images from Gemini also revealed that the object actually was not just one but a pair of orbiting each other," Luhman said.

"It was a lot of detective work," Luhman said. "There are billions of infrared points of light across the sky, and the mystery is which one—if any of them—could be a star that is very close to our solar system."

Explore further: Astrophysicist's passion for exotic science inspired 'Interstellar'

More information: Paper PDF: science.psu.edu/alert/photos/r… uhman_ApJL_32013.pdf

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User comments : 16

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grondilu
1 / 5 (13) Mar 11, 2013
Could it be in orbit around the centauri system? In which case it could play the role of Nemesis when it approaches us?
Shootist
2.8 / 5 (9) Mar 11, 2013
Could it be in orbit around the centauri system?


No.
Lurker2358
2.1 / 5 (11) Mar 11, 2013
Since it is the third-closest star system, in the distant future it might be one of the first destinations for manned expeditions outside our solar system, Luhman said.


Doubtful.
philw1776
3.3 / 5 (7) Mar 11, 2013
Several LY further than the Centauri stars and not in the same direction so No it's not in orbit around them. Were these brown dwarfs approaching us it most likely would have been stated it the article, most likely moving away in a random direction.
Neinsense99
2.9 / 5 (14) Mar 11, 2013
Our television transmissions from 2006 are just arriving there now? So the lucky BSG fans there would not have seen the final series-ending episode yet?
baudrunner
1 / 5 (12) Mar 11, 2013
Only found just now? So it's no wonder that they say that they haven't found Nibiru, because it is not even a star.
philw1776
2 / 5 (8) Mar 11, 2013
Our television transmissions from 2006 are just arriving there now? So the lucky BSG fans there would not have seen the final series-ending episode yet?


Still time to save them from the abomination if we master wormhole communications by the summer!
robweeve
1.3 / 5 (7) Mar 11, 2013
when the astrophysicists weren't looking the stars moved closer
Sinister1811
1 / 5 (6) Mar 11, 2013
Could it be in orbit around the centauri system? In which case it could play the role of Nemesis when it approaches us?


No, it's the third closest measured star system. So it's much further away than even Alpha Centauri.
borc
1 / 5 (1) Mar 12, 2013
Our television transmissions from 2006 are just arriving there now? So the lucky BSG fans there would not have seen the final series-ending episode yet?

I loled for like 5 minutes. Thank you.
Would we actually send people there? I dunno, maybe if there was a planet or something. Or if it was a pit stop. I would expect a better target. like Wolf 359. Betcha there is a borg cube there! ;)
Birger
not rated yet Mar 12, 2013
It might act as a pit stop. If we send robots and AIs to a hypothetical planet there, they could build more probes and send them to the next "layer" of close stars.
BTW it would be cool if we found a brown dwarf equidistant to Sol, Tau Ceti and Epsilon Eridani. It would make a great pit stop.

BTW, in which direction is this brown dwarf system? I know it cannor be spotted with a commercially available telescope, but it would be nice to know.
Fleetfoot
5 / 5 (5) Mar 12, 2013
BTW, in which direction is this brown dwarf system? I know it cannor be spotted with a commercially available telescope, but it would be nice to know.


The name gives the coordinates or it's on Wikipedia:

Constellation Vela
Right ascension 10h 49m 15.57s
Declination −53° 19′ 06″

http://en.wikiped...049-5319
Qshadow
1.7 / 5 (3) Mar 12, 2013
I wonder what are the chances to find even closer Brown Dwarf? Is there more to come (and when?) from the WISE data, or was it last one just missed in previose WISE data examinations?
VendicarE
2.7 / 5 (3) Mar 12, 2013
If it isn't burning hydrogen, then it isn't a star.

This brown dwarf is much closer.

http://yfrog.com/...j:iphone
Q-Star
2 / 5 (4) Mar 12, 2013
I wonder what are the chances to find even closer Brown Dwarf? Is there more to come (and when?) from the WISE data, or was it last one just missed in previose WISE data examinations?


Brown Dwarfs? There may be many more "finds" to come, and there may be few to come, or no more to come from the WISE data. It was such a successful mission that the shear amount of data will keep many astronomers, astrophysicists, and graduate students busy for years and years. Unless it is a nearby "close binary" detecting a brown dwarf is very, very, very serendipitous.
GSwift7
2.6 / 5 (5) Mar 13, 2013
In regard to the possibility that this pair is orbiting us or Alpha Centauri, it surely doesn't. The influence of gravity from our solar system only reaches out to about 1.5 lightyears. Any farther than that and the gravity from other sources dominates. Alpha Centauri A-B are about the same combined mass as our solar system, so the same goes for that system as far as the range of gravitational influence.

In regard to finding brown dwarves, it is highly likely we will find a few more in our neighborhood since they are thought to be several times more numerous than full fledged stars.

In regard to a brown dwarf being the first target of human interstellar travel, that actually makes a good bit of sense. There's likely to be one within reasonable distance, and if they are similar to our own gas giant planets, then they may have habitable moons and magnetic fields.

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