Space

January 10, 2013

NASA telescopes see weather patterns in brown dwarf

Astronomers using NASA’s Spitzer and Hubble space telescopes have probed the stormy atmosphere of a brown dwarf, creating the most detailed “weather map” yet for this class of cool, star-like orbs. The forecast shows wind-driven, planet-sized clouds enshrouding these strange worlds.

Brown dwarfs form out of condensing gas, as stars do, but lack the mass to fuse hydrogen atoms and produce energy. Instead, these objects, which some call failed stars, are more similar to gas planets with their complex, varied atmospheres. The new research is a stepping stone toward a better understanding not only of brown dwarfs, but also of the atmospheres of planets beyond our solar system.

“With Hubble and Spitzer, we were able to look at different atmospheric layers of a brown dwarf, similar to the way doctors use medical imaging techniques to study the different tissues in your body,” said Daniel Apai, the principal investigator of the research at the University of Arizona in Tucson, who presented the results at the American Astronomical Society meeting Jan. 8 in Long Beach, Calif.

A study describing the results, led by Esther Buenzli, also of the University of Arizona, is published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

The researchers turned Hubble and Spitzer simultaneously toward a brown dwarf with the long name of 2MASSJ22282889-431026. They found that its light varied in time, brightening and dimming about every 90 minutes as the body rotated. But more surprising, the team also found the timing of this change in brightness depended on whether they looked using different wavelengths of infrared light.

These variations are the result of different layers or patches of material swirling around the brown dwarf in windy storms as large as Earth itself. Spitzer and Hubble see different atmospheric layers because certain infrared wavelengths are blocked by vapors of water and methane high up, while other infrared wavelengths emerge from much deeper layers.

“Unlike the water clouds of Earth or the ammonia clouds of Jupiter, clouds on brown dwarfs are composed of hot grains of sand, liquid drops of iron, and other exotic compounds,” said Mark Marley, research scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., and co-author of the paper. “So this large atmospheric disturbance found by Spitzer and Hubble gives a new meaning to the concept of extreme weather.”

According to Buenzli, this is the first time researchers can probe variability at several different altitudes at the same time in the atmosphere of a brown dwarf. “Although brown dwarfs are cool relative to other stars, they are actually hot by earthly standards. This particular object is about 1,100 to 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit (600 to 700 degrees Celsius),” Buenzli said.

“What we see here is evidence for massive, organized cloud systems, perhaps akin to giant versions of the Great Red Spot on Jupiter,” said Adam Showman, a theorist at the University of Arizona involved in the research. “These out-of-sync light variations provide a fingerprint of how the brown dwarf’s weather systems stack up vertically. The data suggest regions on the brown dwarf where the weather is cloudy and rich in silicate vapor deep in the atmosphere coincide with balmier, drier conditions at higher altitudes — and vice versa.”

Researchers plan to look at the atmospheres of dozens of additional nearby brown dwarfs using both Spitzer and Hubble.

“From studies such as this we will learn much about this important class of objects, whose mass falls between that of stars and Jupiter-sized planets,” said Glenn Wahlgren, Spitzer Program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “This technique will see extensive use when we are able to image individual exoplanets.”

 




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 

NASA awards research facilities, engineering support services contract

NASA has awarded a contract for research facilities and engineering support services to InuTeq, LLC of Greenbelt, Maryland, in support of the Mission Information and Test Systems Directorate at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif. This cost-plus-award-fee contract covers a one-year base period beginning Nov. 1, 2014 and four one-year options, and is valued...
 
 

NASA awards contract option on test, operations support contract

NASA has exercised the first option to extend the period of performance of its Test and Operations Support Contract with Jacobs Technology Inc. of Tullahoma, Tenn., to Sept. 30, 2016. Jacobs Technology Inc. will provide continued overall management and implementation of ground systems capabilities, flight hardware processing and launch operations in support of the International...
 
 

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft crosses Neptune orbit

NASA’s Pluto-bound New Horizons spacecraft has traversed the orbit of Neptune. This is its last major crossing en route to becoming the first probe to make a close encounter with distant Pluto on July 14, 2015. The sophisticated piano-sized spacecraft, which launched in January 2006, reached Neptune’s orbit – nearly 2.75 billion miles from Earth...
 

 

NASA awards program analysis, Control Bridge III Contract

NASA has awarded the Program Analysis and Control III Bridge contract for support services to ASRC Research & Technology Solutions of Beltsville, Md. The cost-plus-fixed-fee, indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity basic contract has a minimum ordering value of $1 million and a maximum ordering value of $37 million, with a performance period beginning Aug. 30 through Feb....
 
 

NASA selects 26 space biology research proposals

NASA’s Space Biology Program will fund 26 proposals to investigate how microbes, cells, plants and animals respond to changes in gravity. The research will be conducted aboard the International Space Station. The research will help uncover new basic knowledge that other NASA researchers and engineers can use to solve problems confronting human exploration of space...
 
 
NASA image

Ozone-depleting compound persists, NASA research shows

NASA image Satellites observed the largest ozone hole over Antarctica in 2006. Purple and blue represent areas of low ozone concentrations in the atmosphere; yellow and red are areas of higher concentrations. NASA research show...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>