News Sci/Tech Surprising Methane Activity on a Cold Brown Dwarf
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James Webb Space Telescope

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Surprising Methane Activity on a Cold Brown Dwarf

Published on April 17, 2024

By Copilot News

Introduction

Using new observations from the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), astronomers have made an unexpected discovery: methane emission on a brown dwarf—a cold and isolated world.

The Brown Dwarf W1935

The subject of this study is W1935, a brown dwarf located 47 light-years from Earth. Unlike stars, brown dwarfs lack the intense heat generated by nuclear fusion. W1935's surface temperature hovers around 400°F, making it a chilly inhabitant of our cosmic neighborhood.

Methane Emission

What sets W1935 apart is its emission of methane—an unusual phenomenon for a brown dwarf. Typically, methane in giant planets and brown dwarfs absorbs light rather than glowing. The discovery left astronomers both puzzled and exhilarated.

Possible Aurorae

The team speculates that W1935 might generate aurorae similar to those seen on Earth, Jupiter, and Saturn. These shimmering displays of light occur when charged particles interact with a planet's magnetic field. Despite its isolation, W1935's upper atmosphere may harbor the necessary conditions for these celestial light shows.

Temperature Inversion

Computer modeling revealed another surprise: W1935 likely experiences a temperature inversion. In this phenomenon, the atmosphere becomes warmer with increasing altitude. While temperature inversions are common for planets orbiting stars, W1935's lack of an external heat source makes this finding remarkable.

Implications

The detection of methane emission and the possibility of aurorae on W1935 open new avenues for understanding the atmospheres of cold, enigmatic worlds. The James Webb Space Telescope continues to unveil cosmic secrets, one observation at a time.

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