Saturday, April 9, 2011

The laziest star in the universe, 03.18.11

Astronomers have recently discovered the laziest stars to date. By lazy, we mean they are just barely stars; they are actually “failed” stars.

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CFBDSIR 1458+10B is a binary, brown dwarf system located about 75 light-years from Earth. They are roughly the same size as Jupiter, but astronomers say they lack the gusto needed to kick off the nuclear reactions needed to make them shine. Right now, they are only burning at about 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Yes, that is the boiling temperature of water, just a tad hotter than your average cup of coffee. So far as stars are concerned, that is pathetic. For comparison, our own Sun burns at an average of 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit. You would definitely need more than a Styrofoam cup to handle that.

Michael Liu, of the University of Hawaii’s Institute for Astronomy and lead author of the study, said that astronomers could even expect CFBDSIR 1458+10B to have properties much like giant exoplanets (planets outside our solar system), and that “it could even have water clouds in its atmosphere.”

For now, Liu and his team will continue to track the system, and in about 10 years or so they will hopefully have enough data to determine the system’s mass, which will open up all manner of future number-crunching possibilities.

When all the heat on CFBDSIR 1458+10B burns away, it will look like another Jupiter-type planet, only super-sized.


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