First evidence for water ice clouds found outside Solar System

Sep 11, 2014 04:03 IST

The first evidence of water ice clouds was found on an object Brown Dwarf outside the Solar System. The evidence was found by a team of scientists led by Jacqueline K. Faherty and the findings were published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters dated 8 September 2014.

Faherty along with the team at the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile used the FourStar near-infrared camera to detect the coldest brown dwarf W0855. The findings were the result of 151 images taken over three nights.

A comparison of the team’s near-infrared images of W0855 with models for predicting the atmospheric content of brown dwarfs showed the evidence of frozen clouds of sulfide and water. Water ice clouds were seen around giant planets like Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune and Uranus.

The object W0855 was first seen by NASA's Wide-Field Infrared Explorer mission. However, it was the first time that it has been detected by Earth-based facilities.

Brown dwarfs
•    Brown dwarfs fall between small stars and giant planets in size and mass. They are too small to sustain the hydrogen fusion that fuels stars.
•    Moreover, the temperature of brown dwarfs can vary from being hot like a star to cool as a planet.
•    Brown dwarfs offer clues to scientists about star-formation processes.
•    Brown dwarfs can be studied easily by scientists as they are generally found in isolation.

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