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Coldest star ever found spotted by NASA infrared telescope

Published time: April 29, 2014 03:42
WISE J085510.83-071442.5 was discovered through its rapid motion across the sky in two infrared images the WISE satellite taken six months apart in 2010. Two additional images were taken with the Spitzer Space Telescope in 2013 and 2014 to measure its distance via the parallax effect (NASA / JPL / IPAC)

WISE J085510.83-071442.5 was discovered through its rapid motion across the sky in two infrared images the WISE satellite taken six months apart in 2010. Two additional images were taken with the Spitzer Space Telescope in 2013 and 2014 to measure its distance via the parallax effect (NASA / JPL / IPAC)

US astronomers announced Friday that they have discovered a star-like celestial body that is thought to be as frigid as the coldest regions on Earth.

NASA scientists told the press and public that they were able to use the agency’s Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) and the Spitzer Space Telescope to find the coldest brown dwarf ever found. The dwarf, officially known as WISE J085510.83-071442.5, is located 7.2 light-years away from our planet and, consequently, is the fourth-closest system from the sun.

It’s very exciting to discover a new neighbor of our solar system that is so close,” Kevin Luhman, a Penn State astronomer, said in the NASA release. “And given its extreme temperature, it should tell us a lot about the atmospheres of planets, which often have similarly cold temperatures.”

Unlike most stars, brown dwarfs do not give off enough light or heat to make them visible to the naked eye. NASA, using infrared telescope technology, was able to spot WISE J085510.83-071442.5.

Scientists eventually determined that the star’s temperature fluctuates between negative 54 degrees and 9 degrees Fahrenheit, meaning it is the coldest star ever found. The coldest temperature ever recorded in Antarctica, comparatively, was minus 135.3 degrees, and the coldest temperature ever recorded in the US was minus 80 degrees on a 1971 day in Alaska.

WISE J085510.83-071442.5 is estimated to be between 3 to 10 times the mass of Jupiter.

By comparison, other brown dwarf stars discovered in the past have been approximately room temperature.

It is remarkable that even after many decades of studying the sky, we still do not have a complete inventory of the sun’s nearest neighbors,” said Michael Werner, the project scientist for the Spitzer telescope at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in California. “This exciting new result demonstrates the power of exploring the universe using new tools, such as the infrared eyes of WISE and Spitzer.”