3rd closest star system to Sun discovered
Washington, March 12, 2013
First Published: 15:57 IST(12/3/2013)
Last Updated: 16:01 IST(12/3/2013)
Scientists have discovered two new stars that are said to be the third-closest star system to the Sun.
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 binary system are brown dwarfs, which are stars that are too small in mass to ever become hot enough to ignite hydrogen fusion.
As a result, they are very cool and dim, resembling a giant planet like Jupiter more than a bright star like the Sun.
“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,” he said.
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.
The star system is named WISE J104915.57-531906 because it was discovered in a map of the entire sky 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.
The findings are set to be published in Astrophysical Journal Letters.