Aurora Spotted On Brown Dwarf Outside Solar System

Posted: Jul 30 2015, 1:50am CDT | by , in Latest Science News


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Aurora Spotted on Brown Dwarf Outside Solar System
Artist conception of an aurora over the polar region of a brown dwarf. CREDIT: Chuck Carter and Gregg Hallinan, Caltech.

The things astronomers find in space. Now for the first time an aurora has been spotted.

Astronomers discovered the first aurora ever seen outside our Solar System.

The aurora is like the famous "Northern Lights" on Earth.

It is 10,000 times more powerful than any before seen. The aurora was found not on a planet, but from a low-mass star at the boundary between stars and brown dwarfs.

"All the magnetic activity we see on this object can be explained by powerful auroras," said Gregg Hallinan, of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). "This indicates that auroral activity replaces solar-like coronal activity on brown dwarfs and smaller objects," he added.

The aurora on LSR J1835+3259 discovery used the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) at radio wavelengths.

Astronomers combined that with the 5-meter Hale Telescope on Palomar Mountain and the 10-meter Keck Telescope in Hawaii at optical wavelengths.

LSR J1835+3259 is 18 light-years from Earth. The object has characteristics unlike any seen in more-massive stars.

Brown dwarfs are sometimes called "failed stars." These objects are more massive than planets. They are yet too small to trigger the thermonuclear reactions at their cores that power stars.

The coolest stars and brown dwarfs have outer atmospheres that support auroral activity. This is different from the type of magnetic activity on more-massive and hotter stars.

The discovery also has implications for studying extrasolar planets. The aurora on LSR J1835+3259 is powered by a little-understood dynamo process. According to the scientists this is similar to that seen on larger planets in our Solar System.

The process is different from Earth's auroral displays. The effect on Earth is caused by the interaction of charged particles from the sun with atoms in the upper atmosphere.

"What we see on this object appears to be the same phenomenon we've seen on Jupiter, for example, but thousands of times more powerful," Hallinan said. "This suggests that it may be possible to detect this type of activity from extrasolar planets, many of which are significantly more massive than Jupiter," he added.

Hallinan worked with an international team of researchers from the U.S., the U.K., Ireland, Germany, Russia, and Bulgaria.

Details of the discovery can be found in the paper titled "Magnetospherically driven optical and radio aurorae at the end of the stellar main sequence" published in the 30 July issue of the scientific journal Nature.

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