Unprecedented map details weather on an alien brown dwarf: Molten hot rain

January 30, 2014

Unprecedented map details weather on an alien brown dwarf: Molten hot rain

Molten iron rain with highs of 1000°C: First weather map of distant star reveals its hostile atmosphere.

Luhman 16B is a hybrid planet-star positioned 6.7 light years away. Wednesday’s research shows that it’s raining molten iron over there. The reasons for unusual weather patterns in this strange failed star, also known as a brown dwarf, has been determined.

Scientists have created the first weather map for the brown dwarf. The map reveals an intricate arrangement of patchy clouds, composed of liquid iron and various minerals fuming in sweltering temperatures.

The light and dark attributes of the failed star’s surface are mapped out, according the European Southern Laboratory. Computer models illustrate the cooling of brown dwarfs, followed by the formation of liquid iron droplets in the atmosphere. The droplets combine to form patchy clouds, which then produces molten iron rain.

Brown dwarfs are larger than Jupiter, but too miniscule for nuclear fusion, which it’s why they are called “failed stars”. Brown dwarfs are hot in the beginning, and as they gradually cool, emit a faint infrared light. Scientists have discovered a few hundred of these strange objects over the course of 20 years. Luhman 16B’s clouds generally have temperatures of 1700 degrees Fahrenheit.

Ian Crossfield, an author at the Max Plank Institute for Astronomy, says “Previous observations have inferred that brown dwarfs have mottled surfaces, but now we can start to directly map them.’’

A brilliant discovery indeed, the map shows seemingly patchy cloud cover, similar to the weather on Jupiter. The imaging used to create the weather map for the brown dwarf looks similar to satellite weather views of Earth.

Brown dwarfs complete a full rotation every four hours with temperatures far too dangerous for any life form. Scientists developed a technique to detect both the variations of brightness on Luhman 16B, and the direction in which the dark and light features were moving.

The information is then collected into cloud maps. “Soon, we will be able to watch cloud patterns form, evolve and dissipate on this brown dwarf,” Says Ian Crossfield.

Scientists plan to use a similar approach to obtain a better understanding of planets beyond the solar system.

Scientists will continue to use the maps to examine the cloud structure of the brown dwarf as it cannot be explained by a single layer of clouds.

The studies can be found in the journals Nature and Astrophysical Journal Letters.

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