MessageToEagle.com - Flaring radio emissions from an ultra-cool star, not much warmer than the planet Jupiter, have been
discovered by Penn State astronomers using the world's largest radio telescope, at Arecibo, Puerto Rico.
This is by far the coolest brown dwarf yet detected at radio frequencies.
Their discovery shatters previous record for the lowest stellar temperature at which radio waves were detected.
The team from Penn State's Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics and the Center for Exoplanets and
Habitable Worlds, led by Alex Wolszczan, the discoverer of the first planets ever found outside our
solar system, has been using the giant 305-meter (1000-foot) telescope to look for radio signals from a
class of objects known as brown dwarfs.
These objects are small, cold stars that bridge the gap between Jupiter-like giant planets and normal, more-massive,
The astronomers hit the jackpot with a star named J1047+21, a brown dwarf 33.6 light years away in the constellation
Leo, in a result that could boost the odds of discovering life elsewhere in the universe.
"This object is the coolest brown dwarf ever detected emitting radio waves -- it's half the temperature of
the previous record holder, making it only about five times hotter than Jupiter," Matthew Route, a graduate student
at Penn State and the lead author of the discovery paper, said.
The new radio-star is much smaller and colder than our Sun.
With a surface temperature not much higher than that of
a giant planet, and a size comparable to Jupiter's, it is scarcely visible in optical light. Yet the radio flares seen at Arecibo
show it must have a strong magnetic field, implying that the same could be true of other similar stars.
Penn State University astronomers using the world's largest radio telescope at Arecibo, Puerto Rico, have
discovered flaring radio emissions from the ultra-cool star J1047+21, known as a brown dwarf, which is not much
warmer than the planet Jupiter, shattering the previous record for the lowest temperature at which radio waves
had been detected from a star. The detection technique may be used to hunt for giant planets outside our solar
system. The leader of the discovery team also led the discovery of the first planets ever found outside our
solar system. This image is an artist's impression of a brown dwarf. Credit: R. Hurt/NASA
"This is a really exciting result. We hope that in the future we'll be able to detect yet colder brown dwarfs, and
possibly even giant planets around other stars," Wolszczan, an Evan Pugh Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics and the
leader of the project, said.
The possibility that young, hot planets around other stars could be detected in the same manner -- because they
still maintain strong magnetic fields -- has implications for the chances of finding life elsewhere in our Milky Way
Galaxy, Wolszczan explained. "The Earth's field protects life on its surface from harmful particles of the solar wind.
Knowing whether planetary magnetic fields are common or not throughout the Galaxy will aid our efforts to understand
chances that life may exist beyond the Solar System."
Penn State University astronomers using the world's largest radio telescope at Arecibo, Puerto Rico, have discovered
flaring radio emissions from the ultra-cool star J1047+21, known as a brown dwarf, which is not much warmer than the planet
Jupiter, shattering the previous record for the lowest temperature at which radio waves had been detected from a star.
The detection technique may be used to hunt for giant planets outside our solar system. The leader of the discovery
team also led the discovery of the first planets ever found outside our solar system. This artist's impression shows the
relative sizes and colors of the Sun, a red dwarf (M-dwarf), a hotter brown dwarf (L-dwarf), a cool brown dwarf (T-dwarf)
similar to J1047+21, and the planet Jupiter. Credit: NASA/IPAC/R. Hurt (SSC)
The discovery of radio signals from J1047+21 dramatically broadens the window through which astronomers can study the
atmospheres and interiors of these tiny stars, using the radio detection of their magnetic fields as a tool.
At the temperature of this brown dwarf, its atmosphere must be made of neutral gas, which would not give off radio signals
like those seen. The energy to drive the signals is likely to come from magnetic fields deep inside the star, similar
to the field that protects the Earth from dangerous high-energy particles.
By monitoring the radio flares from J1047+21, astronomers will be able to tell how stable the magnetic field is
over time, and, from flare duration, they can infer the size of the emitter itself.
The results were published in the March 10 2012 edition of the Letters section of the Astrophysical Journal.
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