It looks like we have a new neighbor. It's actually been there all along, but astronomers have only now spotted what could be the seventh closest star system to the sun.
The system is just nine light years away, a mere stone's throw in astronomical terms. It took so long to find because it's an extremely dim and cool kind of failed star called a brown dwarf. Astronomers found it using NASA's WISE satellite. WISE's infrared cameras allow it to find objects that are not bright enough to see by visible light alone.
The sun's newfound neighbor and five other supercool brown dwarfs belong to a class of failed star called Y dwarfs. These dwarfs had long been predicted to exist, but they have only recently been spotted in space.
You could safely touch one of the newfound brown dwarfs—its temperature is estimated at about 80 degrees Fahrenheit. That's the chilliest starlike object known. The research will appear in the Astrophysical Journal. [Michael C. Cushing et al., "The Discovery of Y Dwarfs Using Data from the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE)"]
Hundreds of possible brown dwarfs are out there awaiting confirmation. And it's possible that one could be nearer to the sun than any known star. Which would be pretty cool.
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