With the help of data from Chile’s Gemini South telescope and survey information from NASA’s Wide-Field Infrared Solar Explorer (WISE) satellite among other sources, Penn State astronomer Kevin Luhman has located a pair of brown dwarfs that, at 6.5 light-years’ distance from Earth, represent the closest star system found since Barnard’s Star was discovered in 1916. The process of finding the new system, which has been named WISE J104915.57-531906, will appear in a paper to be published in a future issue of Astrophysical Journal Letters.
What’s the Big Idea?
A new and (relatively) close neighbor means new and better opportunities for discovery and exploration, says Luhman. “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.” WISE principal investigator Edward Wright agrees: “[T]he 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.”