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Raining Molten Iron on Luhman 16B

1 Feb 2014, 11:00 UTC
Raining Molten Iron on Luhman 16B
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Brown dwarfs are substellar objects that are more massive than planets, but not massive enough to sustain hydrogen and shine as full-fledged stars. These objects start out hot and cool gradually as they age. When cooled below a temperature of ~2300 K, it is believed that silicate minerals and molten iron begin to condense to form patchy cloud systems in the atmosphere. At cooler temperatures of below ~1300 K, these clouds disappear, probably sinking into the warmer and unobservable deeper layers of the atmosphere.Figure 1: Artist’s impression of weather on a brown dwarf. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle (IPAC).Using the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile, I. Crossfield et al. (2014) have created the first ever global weather map of a brown dwarf named Luhman 16B. This object is a member of a pair of brown dwarfs known together as Luhman 16AB. As the name suggests, Luhman 16AB was discovered by Kevin Luhman, an astronomer at Pennslyvania State University in March 2013 using data from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE). At a distance of just 6.5 light-years away, Luhman 16AB are not only the two closest known brown dwarfs, they are also the third nearest system - only ...

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