A £200 million Nasa space telescope has picked out a star with a surface cooler than a human body – at just 25 degrees celsius, it’s around room temperature.
It’s the coldest ‘brown dwarf’ ever detected outside the solar system.
Like other brown dwarfs, it began life like a star – before it collapsed under its own weight into a dense ball of gas. But unlike a star, it didn’t ‘ignite’.
But, unlike a star, it didn’t have enough mass to fuse atoms at its core, and shine steadily with starlight.
Instead, it has continued to cool and fade since its birth, and now gives off only a feeble amount of infrared light.
Ever since brown dwarfs first were discovered in 1995, astronomers have been trying to find new record holders for the coldest brown dwarfs – the objects are seen as valuable laboratories to help us understand the atmospheres of extrasolar planets with Earth-like temperatures.
ISE’s highly sensitive infrared detectors were able to catch the glow of this object during its two year sky-scan – stitching together an incredible ‘sky Atlas’ from 2.7 million telescope images which capture the whole sky around us, and pick out details from cold, dusty galaxies, to tiny, distant stars.
Half a billion stars are visible in the ‘Atlas’, which shows every part of the sky visible from Earth, captured by hi-tech infrared instruments which can pick out dusty and distant objects invisible to many other telescopes.
‘Today, the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE delivers the fruit of 14 years of effort to the astronomical community,’ said Edward Wright, WISE principal investigator at UCLA, who first began working on the mission with other team members in 1998.
Since it launched in 2009 the £200million infrared telescope, WISE, has been scanning the cosmos with some of the most sophisticated cameras ever deployed in space.
The final image stitches together 18,000 WISE images.