NASA Discovers Third-Closest Star System To Sun

By Staff Reporter on March 12, 2013 7:07 AM EDT

Star system
WISE J104915.57-531906 is at the center of the larger image, which was taken by the NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE). (Photo: NASA/JPL/Gemini Observatory/AU)

A NASA satellite has discovered two stars that are the third-closest star system to the Sun. The pair of stars is the closest star system found since 1916.

According to astronomers, the stars are a pair of brown dwarfs that are very small in mass. This means that they would not be able to become hot enough to trigger the fusion of hydrogen atoms. Instead, the stars are very cool and dim resembling a giant planet like Jupiter more than a bright star like the Sun.

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"The distance to this brown dwarf pair is 6.5 light-years -- so close that Earth's television transmissions from 2006 are now arriving there," Kevin Luhman, an associate professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State University, Pa.,said in a statement.

As the star system is very close to the Earth, it would be easier for astronomers to detect if any planet is orbiting the two brown dwarf stars.

The star system, named "WISE J104915.57-531906," was discovered in an infrared map made by the space agency's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) satellite. It is slightly closer to the second-closest star system called the Barnard's star. This star system was found 6 light-years from the Sun in 1916.

The closest star system to the Sun is Alpha Centauri, which has three stars - Alpha Centauri A and Alpha Centauri B that form a binary pair. The third one is a fainter star called the Proxima Centauri, discovered in 1917 at 4.2 light-years. It is the closest neighbor to the Sun among the stars. 

The details of the findings will be published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

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