Third – Closest Star System to Sun Discovered
In a first – of – its – kind discovery in nearly a century, NASA scientists have found the third – closest star system to the Sun — located only 6.5 light – years away.
The pair of newly found stars is the closest star system discovered since 1916.
Both stars in the new binary system discovered by NASA’s Wide – field Infrared Survey Explorer ( WISE ) 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,” said Kevin Luhman, an Associate Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at Penn State University, University Park, and a researcher in Penn State’s Center for Exoplanets and Habitable Worlds.
“It will be an excellent hunting ground for planets because the system is very close to Earth, which makes it a lot easier to see any planets orbiting either of the brown dwarfs,” Luhman said in a statement.
The star system is named “WISE J104915.57 – 531906” because it was discovered in an infrared map of the entire sky obtained by WISE.
It is only slightly farther away than the second-closest star, Barnard’s star, which was discovered 6 light – years from the Sun in 1916.
The closest star system consists of: Alpha Centauri, found to be a neighbour of the Sun in 1839 at 4.4 light-years away, and the fainter Proxima Centauri, discovered in 1917 at 4.2 light – years.
“One major goal when proposing WISE was to find the closest stars to the Sun. WISE J1049 – 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,” Edward ( Ned ) Wright, the Principal Investigator for the WISE Satellite at University of California, Los Angeles, said.
The study will be published in Astrophysical Journal Letters.
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