Scientists have discovered a new star system that is now recorded as the third closest to the sun. The big reveal is also the closest star system to be discovered in the last century.
The system at its center is made up of brown dwarfs, which are strange objects that are bigger than planets but too small to trigger the internal nuclear fusion reactions required to become full-fledged stars.
The “failed stars” could ultimately be a good place for scientists to search for exoplanets.
Kevin Luhman, a researcher at Penn State’s Center for Exoplanets and Habitable Worlds, reveals in a statement:
“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 … 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.”
In comparison, Bernards star which was discovered in 1906 is 6.0 light-years from the sun and Alpha Centauri is 4.4 light-years. While Alpha Centauri was discovered quite some time ago, it wasn’t until last year that an Earth-size planet was discovered in the star system.
The new star system is officially named WISE J104915.57-531906. The star system was discovered by NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) spacecraft. The star system was discovered when the spacecraft completed a 13-month mission scanning the entire sky 1 1/2 times. The spacecraft took nearly 1.8 million images of asteroids, stars, and galaxies.
To measure the newly discovered star system’s distance, scientists used trigonometric parallax, a process that is used when an object is close enough to show an apparent shift in position relative to much farther background stars due to the Earth’s orbit around the sun.
Here is a chart that showcases the differences in distances among the sun’s closest stars:
Researchers will continue to to examine the newly discovered star system to gain a better understanding of its various properties.