The coldest class of stars have temperatures as cool as the human body.
Astronomers hunted these dark orbs, termed Y dwarfs, for more than a decade without success.
When viewed with a visible-light telescope, they are nearly impossible to see.
Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer's (WISE) infrared vision allowed the telescope to finally spot the faint glow of six Y
dwarfs relatively close to our sun, within a distance of about 40 light-years.
"WISE scanned the entire sky for these and other objects, and was able to spot their feeble light with its highly sensitive
infrared vision," said Jon Morse, Astrophysics Division director at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "They are 5,000 times brighter at
the longer infrared wavelengths WISE observed from space than those observable from the ground."
The Y's are the coldest members of the brown dwarf family. Brown dwarfs are sometimes referred to as "failed" stars.
They are too low in mass to fuse atoms at their cores and thus don't burn with the fires that keep stars like our sun shining steadily for billions of years.
Instead, these objects cool and fade with time, until what little light they do emit is at infrared wavelengths.
Astronomers study brown dwarfs to better understand how stars form, and to understand the atmospheres of planets beyond our solar system.
The atmospheres of brown dwarfs are similar to those of gas-giant planets like Jupiter, but they are easier to observe
because they are alone in space, away from the blinding light of a parent star.
NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, has uncovered the coldest brown dwarf known so far
(green dot in very center of this infrared image). Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA
So far, WISE data have revealed 100 new brown dwarfs. More discoveries are expected as scientists continue to examine the enormous quantity of
data from WISE. The telescope performed the most advanced survey of the sky at infrared wavelengths to date, from Jan. 2010 to Feb. 2011,
scanning the entire sky about 1.5 times.
Of the 100 brown dwarfs, six are classified as cool Y's. One of the Y dwarfs, called WISE 1828+2650, is the record holder for the coldest
brown dwarf, with an estimated atmospheric temperature cooler than room temperature, or less than about 80 degrees Fahrenheit (25 degrees Celsius).
This artist's conception illustrates what a "Y dwarf" might look like. Y dwarfs are the coldest star-like bodies known,
with temperatures that can be even cooler than the human body. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
"The brown dwarfs we were turning up before this discovery were more like the temperature of your oven," said Davy Kirkpatrick,
a WISE science team member at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena,
Calif. "With the discovery of Y dwarfs, we've moved out of the kitchen and into the cooler parts of the house."
Kirkpatrick is lead author of a paper appearing in the Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series, describing the 100 confirmed brown
dwarfs. Michael Cushing, a WISE team member at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., is lead author of a paper
describing the Y dwarfs in the Astrophysical Journal.
The Y dwarfs are in our sun's neighborhood, from approximately nine to 40 light-years away. The Y dwarf approximately nine
light-years away, WISE 1541-2250, may become the seventh closest star system, bumping Ross 154 back to eighth. By comparison,
the star closest to our solar system, Proxima Centauri, is about four light-years away.
This artist's conception illustrates what brown dwarfs of different types might look like to a hypothetical
interstellar traveler who has flown a spaceship to each one. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
"Finding brown dwarfs near our sun is like discovering there's a hidden house on your block that you didn't know about,"
Cushing said. "It's thrilling to me to know we've got neighbors out there yet to be discovered. With WISE, we may even find a
brown dwarf closer to us than our closest known star."
Once the WISE team identified brown dwarf candidates, they turned to NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope to narrow their list.
To definitively confirm them, the WISE team used some of the most powerful telescopes on Earth to split apart the objects'
light and look for telltale molecular signatures of water, methane and possibly ammonia. For the very coldest of the new Y dwarfs,
the team used NASA's Hubble Space Telescope.
The Y dwarfs were identified based on a change in these spectral features compared to
other brown dwarfs, indicating they have a lower atmospheric temperature.
MessageToEagle.com based on material provided by NASA
Astrophysicist Resolves Paradox With Radio Millisecond Pulsars
Celestial objects known as pulsars are still full of secrets. It is takes time and many efforts to learn all their secrets. Previous studies reached
the paradoxical conclusion that some millisecond pulsars are even older than the universe itself. It was time to resolve this paradox.
Unusual Pulsar Or Alien Signals?
The pulse timing of this object is considered unusual.
What kind of phenomenon is related to this object?
It is the first time this kind of phenomenon has been observed by astronomers.
The "Cloaked" Star Was Difficult To Find
An object obscured by dust, and buried in a two-star system enshrouded by dense gas, is not easy to find.
A "cloaked" star was discovered after it ate a little of its neighbor. The meal must have given the star a bit of indigestion, because it
"burped" with a blast of high-energy radiation, which gave it away.
Radio Emission From Ultracool Dwarf Detected By Arecibo Telescope
The Arecibo Telescope in Puerto Rico has discovered sporadic bursts of polarized radio emission from the T6.5 brown J1047+21.
Because Arecibo is a single, fixed-dish telescope, it has a restricted practical sensitivity to weak, quiescent emission from radio sources...
First Evidence - Bizarre Superfluid Matter Found At Neutron Star Core
Many mysteries regarding neutron stars have to be solved and one of such mysteries has just been revealed, the first direct evidence for
this bizarre state of matter in the core of a neutron star.
Neutron stars contain the densest known matter that is directly observable. One teaspoon of neutron star material weighs six billion tons.
Invader From Another Galaxy
This alien intruder from another galaxy is in many ways different from other exoplanets observed by astronomers.
Located about 2000 light-years from Earth in the southern constellation of Fornax (the Furnace), the Jupiter-like planet orbits a dying star of
extragalactic origin and risks to be engulfed by it.
Near-Miss Asteroid 2012 DA14 Returns Next Year
This time, the asteroid is going to miss our planet, but it comes back next year.
When it whizzes past Earth in 2013, a newly discovered asteroid is going to miss our planet – but not by much.
The 50 m space rock is expected to come closer than many satellites, highlighting the growing need to keep watch on hazards from above.
Power To See Most Distant Objects In The Universe
The 3C294, is one of the most distant galaxies recorded by Chandra, the most sophisticated X-ray observatory ever built.
The cluster 3C294 is even 40 percent farther (!) than the next most distant x-ray galaxy cluster.
Chandra focus on X-rays from high-energy regions of the Universe and see the invisible.
It is so sensitive that it can capture images of particles as they disappear into a black hole deep in outer space.