About 18 light years away, scientists detected for the first time an aurora that is not located within the limits of our solar system. The spectacular light show was spotted in the Lyra constellation on the surface of a brown dwarf dubbed LSR J1835.
Brown dwarfs are cosmic bodies that are too small to become stars but too large to be considered planets. Yet, the new discovery represents new evidence that the objects should be viewed as scale-up versions of planets.
Scientists said that the newly found extrasolar aurora is very similar to Earth’s polar auroras but is up to one million times brighter and has a different hue due to the composition of the brown dwarf’s atmosphere.
On Earth, auroras usually have a greenish tint because charged particles interact with atoms of oxygen. But on the brown dwarf’s surface, charged particles hit atoms of hydrogen, thus triggering auroras that are of a reddish color.
The international group of scientists that made the discovery published a paper on their findings this week in the journal Nature.
Dr Stuart Littlefair at the University of Sheffield, in U.K., noted that it is the first time scientists have substantial evidence that auroras can occur on brown dwarfs, as well.
Until now, auroras have been spotted on other planets of our solar system, but never before were they seen outside its boundaries.
In our solar system, auroras are triggered by charged particles coming from the Sun, but the brown dwarf in question doesn’t have a star nearby. So, the mechanism which sparks auroras on its surface must be different.
“It is possible material is being stripped off the surface of the brown dwarf to produce its own electrons,”
explained Dr Littlefair.
Yet according to a different hypothesis, the brown dwarf may be blasted with charged particles generated by a hidden planet around it or a natural satellite. For instance, Jupiter’s auroras are triggered by charged particles spewed by its largest moon’s volcanoes, researchers said.
Astronomers made their finding with help from the Very Large Array radio telescope in New Mexico along with the 200-inch Hale ground telescope in California and the Keck twin telescopes in Mauna Kea, Hawaii.
They now hope that the discovery would end a decade-long debate over the nature of brown dwarfs. Until now, some scientists argued that these cosmic objects are downsized versions of stars, while others believed that they are up scaled versions of planets.
Image Source: Deviantart
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