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Astronomers Discover Third-Closest Star System To Earth

samzenpus posted about a year and a half ago | from the howdy-neighbor dept.

Space 151

The Bad Astronomer writes "Astronomers have found the third-closest star system to the Earth: called WISE 1049-5319, it's a binary brown dwarf system just 6.5 light years away. Brown dwarfs are faint, low mass objects 13 — 75 times the mass of Jupiter, and are so dim they are very difficult to detect. These newly-found nearby objects were seen in observations from 1978 but went unnoticed at the time, but since that date the large apparent motion of the binary made their proximity obvious. Only two star systems are closer: Alpha Centauri (4.3 light years) and Barnard's star (6 light years)."

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These are the starts that are closest to me (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43140163)

Sheldon's going to have to fix his song.

Re:These are the starts that are closest to me (5, Funny)

Dr. Sheldon Cooper (2726841) | about a year and a half ago | (#43141989)

I most certainly shall not. I don't consider a brown dwarf to be a real star. I generally don't spend time considering topics related to astronomy at all, as it is widely known that astronomy is a field for children or H1B imports with selective mutism and a penchant for broadway musicals.

To put it in terms you would be more likely to understand, if stars were thespians, a brown dwarf would be on par with Jean Claude Van Damme.

And before you ask, a thespian is what you normies call an actor.

Re:These are the starts that are closest to me (1)

bkmoore (1910118) | about a year and a half ago | (#43142385)

...To put it in terms you would be more likely to understand, if stars were thespians, a brown dwarf would be on par with Jean Claude Van Damme...

I always thought a brown dwarf was the actor who played the character Tatoo in Fantasy Island. Was Jean Claude Van Damme in Fantasy Island?

Thats great (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43140187)

Yeah!

If brown dwarfs can't sustain fusion (5, Interesting)

mozumder (178398) | about a year and a half ago | (#43140199)

then why are they considered stars?

Re:If brown dwarfs can't sustain fusion (3, Interesting)

MyLongNickName (822545) | about a year and a half ago | (#43140311)

I'm not sure why this is modded down. A brown dwarf never achieves sustained fusion and is not considered a full-fledged star, so i am also confused to why it is considered a star system.

Re:If brown dwarfs can't sustain fusion (1)

noh8rz10 (2716597) | about a year and a half ago | (#43141801)

I think if it is the center of a planetary system, then it is a star. If it is part of a planetary system that is orbiting a larger star, then it is a planet. This makes sense, no? Also, maybe if it used to be a full fledged star, then it will always be classified as a star.

Re:If brown dwarfs can't sustain fusion (4, Interesting)

jc42 (318812) | about a year and a half ago | (#43142747)

I think if it is the center of a planetary system, then it is a star.

This is a nice example of why you need to be careful in how you define things. With the above definition, our own sun isn't a "star" (most of the time).

Isaac Newton was one of the people who pointed this out. The objects in our solar system actually orbit the barycenter of the system, the technical name for what is often called the center of mass (or more weirdly, the center of gravity). Because most of the solar system's mass outside the sun is Jupiter, and because Jupiter is far enough away from the sun, the barycenter of the solar system is usually outside the sun. Not far outside, true, but outside the visible "surface" of the sun. It's only inside the sun when most of the other big planets are on the other side from Jupiter.

So, technically speaking, Earth and the other planets don't actually orbit the sun; they orbit the barycenter, which is (usually) outside the sun. The sun itself also orbits the same barycenter, in a very close orbit. And a few humorous remarks have been made based on the fact that Newton actually demonstrated that the Earth doesn't revolve around the sun.

We probably need a better definition of the term "star" than "has planets". That also causes a different problem: It's a circular definition, since the common definition of a "planet" includes orbiting a star. So one might decide that Jupiter is a star, and at least its four major moons instantly become planets, which then is used in the definition of "star" to prove that Jupiter is indeed a star.

There's a lot of humor in the way such terms are being defined by various (mostly non-astronomical) parties. Maybe we should go back to the definition that a star is an astronomical thing that undergoes sustained nuclear fusion. Ya think that'd work?

(We do have to carefully word it so that the experimental fusion projects in Earthly labs don't qualify as stars. ;-)

Re:If brown dwarfs can't sustain fusion (1)

Waffle Iron (339739) | about a year and a half ago | (#43140319)

then why are they considered stars?

IIRC, they can sustain fusion until all of the natural deuterium (which is not much) is used up, but then they stop because they're not big enough to fuse regular hydrogen. Its kind of like a wimpier version of a white dwarf star that stops burning because it can't fuse carbon.

Re:If brown dwarfs can't sustain fusion (4, Informative)

skade88 (1750548) | about a year and a half ago | (#43140323)

According to the Brown Dwarf Wiki article "However, for some years now there has been debate concerning what criterion to use for defining the separation between a brown dwarf and a giant planet at very low brown dwarf masses (~13 Jupiter masses).[3] One school of thought is based on formation, and another on interior physics.[3] Dwarfs are categorized by spectral classification, with the major types being M, L, T, and Y.[3] Despite their name, most brown dwarfs would appear magenta to the human eye.[3] Another debate is whether brown dwarfs are required to have experienced fusion at some point in their history. Some planets are known to orbit brown dwarfs: 2M1207b, MOA-2007-BLG-192Lb, and 2MASS J044144b. Brown dwarfs may have fully convective surfaces and interiors, with no chemical differentiation by depth.[4]" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brown_dwarf [wikipedia.org]

Re:If brown dwarfs can't sustain fusion (1, Funny)

Jhon (241832) | about a year and a half ago | (#43140393)

I say we kick Pluto out of the solar system since it's not a REAL planet. Let it spend the rest of it's life around a fake star!

Effing dwarfs.

Re:If brown dwarfs can't sustain fusion (4, Funny)

skade88 (1750548) | about a year and a half ago | (#43140455)

Dwarf planets and stars are sensitive and preferred it if you called them little planets and little stars.

Re:If brown dwarfs can't sustain fusion (0)

skade88 (1750548) | about a year and a half ago | (#43140477)

and whats with the racism? Do we need to keep calling brown dwarfs brown? They don't even look brown! They look magenta! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brown_dwarf [wikipedia.org]

Re:If brown dwarfs can't sustain fusion (2)

Waffle Iron (339739) | about a year and a half ago | (#43141715)

The term "little" could be construed as demeaning.

I think the currently preferred term is "differently sized" planets.

Re:If brown dwarfs can't sustain fusion (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43142355)

The term "little" could be construed as demeaning.

I think the currently preferred term is "differently sized" planets.

As is the slanderous term "planets". I believe the correct term is "differently sized astronomical collections of matter".

Re:If brown dwarfs can't sustain fusion (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43142569)

I believe the correct term is "mass challenged".

Re:If brown dwarfs can't sustain fusion (0)

NoNonAlphaCharsHere (2201864) | about a year and a half ago | (#43140467)

Damn right. But the job's not finished until we kick fucking Plutonium off the Periodic Table of Elements, too.

Re:If brown dwarfs can't sustain fusion (1, Funny)

OolimPhon (1120895) | about a year and a half ago | (#43140883)

Nope, Plutonium is okay. It's named after some cartoon dog.

Re:If brown dwarfs can't sustain fusion (3, Interesting)

MightyYar (622222) | about a year and a half ago | (#43140355)

It's subject to some debate. Basically, mostly the differentiation between a gas giant and a small brown dwarf comes down to how it formed and the physics going on inside.

Re:If brown dwarfs can't sustain fusion (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43141719)

It's subject to some debate. Basically, mostly the differentiation between a gas giant and a small brown dwarf comes down to how it formed and the physics going on inside.

I have that problem as well. Sometimes its gas, sometime its a brown dwarf. I need new underwear when I mistake the two.

Re:If brown dwarfs can't sustain fusion (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43140701)

Well they don't belong to any star system, so they form a system on their own, but a star system would look stupid without a star.

Re:If brown dwarfs can't sustain fusion (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43141395)

They are dwarf stars

Re:If brown dwarfs can't sustain fusion (1)

argStyopa (232550) | about a year and a half ago | (#43141465)

Because astronomy is still deeply wedded to a sort of archaic taxonomy that is based in the observations of Chaldeans and still has more than a few toes mired in its astrological foundations.

It's long past time that the entire discipline basically sits down and rewrites its nomenclature (giving as best possible use of the common terms for things such as stars, planets, nebulae, etc.). We've started by throwing Pluto back out into the outer darkness where it properly belongs, but it's only a beginning.

And where's the mass of the universe? (5, Interesting)

sshambar (542567) | about a year and a half ago | (#43140279)

Can someone explain to me how discovering the THIRD closes system to ours in 2013 doesn't suggest that all the Dark Matter(tm) that's out there just isn't a mass of brown dwarfs that we can't see, and not a whole new class of matter?

Re:And where's the mass of the universe? (2)

sshambar (542567) | about a year and a half ago | (#43140313)

(obvious typo: that's closest)

Re:And where's the mass of the universe? (1)

ThorGod (456163) | about a year and a half ago | (#43140335)

I think that's the common definition of dark matter. It's just whatever apparent gravitational affects can't be accounted for by the 'visible (through a telescope) matter'.

new dark matter results any day now (3, Interesting)

peter303 (12292) | about a year and a half ago | (#43141067)

That very expensive special detector on the Space Station is reputed to announce interesting results any day now. Detecting certain classes of dark matter was one of its capabilities.

Congress had to fund a special extra shuttle launch to get this into orbit. Furtmore, the physicists decided to swap in a new set of magnets last minute, postponing it over a year.

Re:And where's the mass of the universe? (2)

skade88 (1750548) | about a year and a half ago | (#43140367)

Interesting....The idea of dark matter is around because our models of the universe that are only based on what we can see don't measure up to the mass we figure the universe needs to actually have. My question to you is, how many extra brown dwarfs would we need to close that gap in mass?

Re:And where's the mass of the universe? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43143227)

If there were enough brown dwarfs to account for the dark matter in the galaxy's halo, it would have been observed by surveys designed to look for exactly such objects. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gravitational_microlensing#Observing_microlensing

Re:And where's the mass of the universe? (4, Informative)

Waffle Iron (339739) | about a year and a half ago | (#43140389)

As I recall, it's because the orbital velocities of regular stars in disk-shaped galaxies suggest that dark matter is distributed spherically around the galactic center rather than concentrated in the disk. That implies that unlike brown dwarfs, dark matter interacts neither with normal matter nor itself by any force other than gravity.

Re:And where's the mass of the universe? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43140729)

If it interacts through gravity... how come it hasn't behaved like all other matter? Unless you're saying there's some force other than gravity which acts between stars....? I mean, what else influences visible matter that causes it to collapse into galactic disks -- and which doesn't affect dark matter?

Re:And where's the mass of the universe? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43141093)

Good questions to ask, its something science does indeed want to figure out. But for right now dark matter exerts gravitational force in the models we are using to predict the universes structure.

Re:And where's the mass of the universe? (2)

femtobyte (710429) | about a year and a half ago | (#43141975)

There are non-gravitational forces that are important on the galaxy formation scale --- specifically, collisions/drag from interstellar gas (on the micro scale, due to electromagnetic intermolecular interactions) is necessary to collapse a big gob of mass into a galactic disk. If all particles were like dark matter, only weakly or non-interacting except through gravity, then galactic disks would never form (you'd just have big, amorphous volumes of particles whizzing past each other).

Re:And where's the mass of the universe? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43141065)

In other words dark matter has more do do with physics simulations attempting to match up to observed effects. Because when we simulate disk galaxy formation it doesn't work if "dark matter" isn't there in the simulation to make it work.

We think our standard model works pretty good so we assume that whatever "dark matter" is standing in for is really there. Some people have claimed to observe "formations" of dark matter in large distant galactic structures I think. But there is very little empirical evidence for it. Just speculation. IMO

In other words dark matter could be almost anything ;p but we believe somethings there.

Re:And where's the mass of the universe? (1)

blind biker (1066130) | about a year and a half ago | (#43141421)

As I recall, it's because the orbital velocities of regular stars in disk-shaped galaxies suggest that dark matter is distributed spherically around the galactic center rather than concentrated in the disk. That implies that unlike brown dwarfs, dark matter interacts neither with normal matter nor itself by any force other than gravity.

But isn't gravity what ultimately gives galaxies their shape? Your statement makes it sound as if there are two types of gravity, the one that forms galaxies from non-dark matter, and the gravity between dark and non-dark matter.

Re:And where's the mass of the universe? (4, Informative)

Waffle Iron (339739) | about a year and a half ago | (#43141651)

No, it's the same gravity, which affects both normal matter and dark matter the same.

The difference is that if dark matter interacted by any force other than gravity (such as electromagnetism, etc.), then it would be deflected on encounters with other objects instead of passing right through them. This would eventually cause the dark matter to settle into a disk, like the rest of the stuff in the galaxy. However, it instead seems to remain in its initial spherical distribution to this day.

Re:And where's the mass of the universe? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43142415)

No, it's the same gravity, which affects both normal matter and dark matter the same.

I think the confusion is that one kind of "dark matter" would be better described as "unobserved matter", which is just regular matter that we haven't seen yet. We do things like say "We've seen this much mass in this area, so we'll extrapolate that to determine how much mass should exist in this other area." Then when the results don't match up we say the difference is "dark matter". But we still suspect that even if we account for all the "normal" mass, we'll still come up short and whatever is left is usually referred to as "exotic" dark matter.

Or in other words, it's basically a fancy-sounding name for writing a variable in an equation to represent an unknown quantity.

Re:And where's the mass of the universe? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43143795)

How is dark matter then any different than the Oort Cloud? Seems to me that the same principle is at work here. Tonnes of small, cold matter slowly locked between the gravity and the general forces pushing it outward.

Re:And where's the mass of the universe? (2)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | about a year and a half ago | (#43141787)

Yes, gravity is primarily what gives galaxies their shape. However, the gravitational effects of the matter which we can observe does not yield the structure that we observe and no other force seems to fill the bill. This suggests that there are objects out there which exert gravitational force but do not interact with any of the other forces we currently observe in the universe (in particular, electro-magnetic force since that is the only one, besides gravity, that acts over a range long enough to be reliably observed at the distances we are talking about).

Re:And where's the mass of the universe? (1)

blind biker (1066130) | about a year and a half ago | (#43141957)

Yes, gravity is primarily what gives galaxies their shape.

Why isn't, then, the dark matter shaped like a disk, similar to a galaxy, rather than a sphere, as the OP states?

Re:And where's the mass of the universe? (1)

drwho (4190) | about a year and a half ago | (#43143427)

Dark matter is merely interstellar lint, the remains of many, many missing socks.

Re:And where's the mass of the universe? (5, Informative)

Baloroth (2370816) | about a year and a half ago | (#43140423)

Can someone explain to me how discovering the THIRD closes system to ours in 2013 doesn't suggest that all the Dark Matter(tm) that's out there just isn't a mass of brown dwarfs that we can't see, and not a whole new class of matter?

Because of Big Bang nucleosynthesis. We can know how much baryonic matter ("normal" matter) there is in the universe by certain cosmological observations. Other cosmological observations show there is more matter out there than that (about 5 times more) and therefore it cannot all be brown dwarfs, black holes, or other dark but non-exotic forms of matter.

Re:And where's the mass of the universe? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43140483)

The problem is that we can "see" the gravity from the dark matter. If there was enough brown stars to make the gravity visible then they would be visible too.

Re:And where's the mass of the universe? (2)

Kjella (173770) | about a year and a half ago | (#43140507)

Apparently there's good reason to think it's not atoms at all:

A small proportion of dark matter may be baryonic dark matter: astronomical bodies, such as massive compact halo objects, that are composed of ordinary matter but which emit little or no electromagnetic radiation. Study of nucleosynthesis in the Big Bang produces an upper bound on the amount of baryonic matter in the universe, which indicates that the vast majority of dark matter in the universe cannot be baryons, and thus does not form atoms.

Of course they could be wrong, any models of what happened during the Big Bang are extreme extrapolations. Or it could be the single Big Bang theory that is wrong, that there's lots of old, dark matter from previous big bangs. But the most plausible theory seems to be something like massive neutrinos.

Re:And where's the mass of the universe? (4, Informative)

myrikhan (1136505) | about a year and a half ago | (#43140555)

IIRC there aren't enough of them and they're too low mass to make up the dark matter. After a bit of searching I found this thesis. It looks like a good introduction to the area.

http://arxiv.org/pdf/1110.2757 [arxiv.org]

Re:And where's the mass of the universe? (3, Interesting)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about a year and a half ago | (#43140763)

Because dark matter isn't dark because it doesn't give off light. It's dark because it doesn't even interact with normal matter in any other way than gravitation. We can see the effects of its mass, but it does not occlude stars behind it, the light and radio waves passes right through as if it didn't exist.

Re:And where's the mass of the universe? (3, Informative)

Hentes (2461350) | about a year and a half ago | (#43140841)

The problem with that is if gravitational anomalies indeed are caused by a form of invisible matter, then its mass would have to be far too great to consist of normal matter. There are many forms of possibly invisible matter: compact stars, neutrinos etc but their masses don't add up [wikipedia.org] to even a fraction of the amount needed.

Re:And where's the mass of the universe? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43141383)

Actually, this was one of the first hypothesis for explaining the dark matter: the MACHO http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Massive_compact_halo_object

These MACHOs were studied statistically by methods like gravitational microlensing (e.g. OGLE).
These studies concluded that the brown dwarfs can explain 20% of the dark matter in the galaxy, no more.

Re:And where's the mass of the universe? (2)

skids (119237) | about a year and a half ago | (#43141419)

Well, the above explanations are all very educational. The computer programmer in me wants to answer using short circuit logic, however: we have always been able to see these particular stars. We just didn't know they were so close, because we were looking at still frames.

Re:And where's the mass of the universe? (1)

idji (984038) | about a year and a half ago | (#43141703)

look at Massive Compact Halo Object [wikipedia.org]

Re:And where's the mass of the universe? (1)

MaskedSlacker (911878) | about a year and a half ago | (#43142931)

Protip: If you find yourself saying, "It seems so obvious that _____________," then an expert in the field probably already thought of it and examined it, and a google search would do you good.

As others have already posted, the idea of MACHOs has been explored, and is (as best as we can tell) not able to explain (most of) the missing matter.

Out of Range (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43140325)

Still out of range of a Traveller Jump-1 drive (1 parsec or 3.26 light years)

Brown dwarf system just 6.5 light years away... (0)

mfnickster (182520) | about a year and a half ago | (#43140349)

...and it's headed RIGHT FOR US!!!

No it isn't. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43140453)

If it were, then it would not move in relation to the background stars....

Since it moves, it isn't aimed at us.

Same with a tornado - If you can see it moving, then it will miss you... If not... run as fast as you can 90 degrees to the direction between you and the tornado.

Re:No it isn't. (0)

skade88 (1750548) | about a year and a half ago | (#43140501)

So that's what they should have done in the new Wizard of Oz movie!

Re:No it isn't. (1)

cusco (717999) | about a year and a half ago | (#43142757)

Seriously? They re-made the Wizard of Oz??? What on earth for? It's not like there was any possibility at all that they would do it better, or even as well, as the original.

Hollyweird is out of ideas, all they can do any more is create crappy reiterations of someone else's original idea.

Andromeda "collision" is more scary (3, Insightful)

peter303 (12292) | about a year and a half ago | (#43141121)

Andromeda is trillions of times more massive and will "collide" with the Milky Way in two billion years. But they will interpetrate each other like ghosts passing in the night. Odds are unlikely there wont be a single stellar collision among the trillion stars during the Big Merge. The night sky will become rather interesting with multiple stellar bands lighting the sky.

Proxima Centauri (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43140351)

Article has error. Proxima Centauri is 4.24 light years away.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proxima_centauri

Re:Proxima Centauri (4, Funny)

skade88 (1750548) | about a year and a half ago | (#43140391)

Mod this up or edit the wiki article so Proxima Centauri is 14 light years away...

Re:Proxima Centauri (3, Informative)

PhotoJim (813785) | about a year and a half ago | (#43141241)

True, but Proxima Centauri is a part of the Alpha Centauri star system, so that still makes this the third closest star system.

Re:Proxima Centauri (1)

mister_playboy (1474163) | about a year and a half ago | (#43142001)

Alpha Centauri itself is really two stars. We're stuck with names from the time before we could resolve individual stars in multiple star systems and it leads to misunderstanding.

Systems like ours, with just one star, are a minority in the Universe.

Re:Proxima Centauri (1)

PhotoJim (813785) | about a year and a half ago | (#43142139)

Quite right. It's three stars in total: Proxima orbits the combined pair of Alpha Centauri A and B. If I recall, they orbit each other at roughly the distance of Neptune from the sun. If Earth were orbiting either, it would be a very interesting night sky for years at a time.

Unique names for nearby stars (2)

doconnor (134648) | about a year and a half ago | (#43140373)

We should probably come up with unique names for the all the stars within 10 light years or so instead of calling them things like WISE 1049-5319 and Wolf 359. They are probably going to be of increasing importance in the coming decades and centuries as we are able to study them more closely.

Re:Unique names for nearby stars (1)

skade88 (1750548) | about a year and a half ago | (#43140399)

We could hold a planet wide vote on the names. :D

Re:Unique names for nearby stars (1)

Jhon (241832) | about a year and a half ago | (#43140411)

How about we call them "Bruce" to avoid confusion?

Re:Unique names for nearby stars (2)

Zephyn (415698) | about a year and a half ago | (#43140601)

Only if a certain percentage of their solar system's mass or above is made up of ethanol.

At least on the weekends....

Re:Unique names for nearby stars (1)

Aryden (1872756) | about a year and a half ago | (#43140613)

We have to start building our fleet now if we're going to be ready in 300 years to take on the Borg at Wolf 359.

Re:Unique names for nearby stars (2)

geekmux (1040042) | about a year and a half ago | (#43141337)

We should probably come up with unique names for the all the stars within 10 light years or so instead of calling them things like WISE 1049-5319 and Wolf 359. They are probably going to be of increasing importance in the coming decades and centuries as we are able to study them more closely.

Yes, if only we had a system that translated numbers into names that worked on a global scale that everyone would recognize(.com)...

Re:Unique names for nearby stars (1)

mcl630 (1839996) | about a year and a half ago | (#43143543)

Cue the star name squatters.

Will people actully use the names? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43142989)

When people get out into the galaxy and start visiting these places for themselves, they're going to give the places new names that are meaningful to them. Why should they respect the names chosen hundreds of years ago by people who'd never been there? This rush to give every piece of dust in space a name seems a pointless exercise, to be quickly overturned as soon as it becomes important.

More of the same (1)

macraig (621737) | about a year and a half ago | (#43140409)

I seem to recall reading that the future of star formation in this Universe will involve increasing formation of brown dwarfs and a cacophony of rocky planets, as the supply of hydrogen for new stars dwindles and the "metals" from previous stars accumulates. Kinda sad, that all those rocky planets will be circling "stars" too dim and cold to make them suitable for life.

What about (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43140583)

the closest and second closest star systems? Did they find those yet?

Re:What about (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43140625)

Your momma so fat that she's the closest.

Can someone explain something to me? (2)

NoNonAlphaCharsHere (2201864) | about a year and a half ago | (#43140649)

I just don't understand the current astronomical obsession with nearby stars/solar systems and exoplanets. OK, I do understand that in this particular case, it's WISE data and simply fell into their laps while going through the survey data. But in the general case, from an astronomy/astrophysics interested layman's perspective, way way way too much intellectual bandwidth, funding, and future research proposals go into the search for exoplanets. I mean, here we are, postulating "dark matter" and "dark energy" to explain why the universe doesn't match our models, and yet we're spending all this time and money on looking for (mostly Jupiter-sized or bigger) planets that don't really tell us anything useful.

And don't even get me started on the Standard Model, with it's 27 Magic Constants; which I think is part and parcel of the whole dark matter/energy problem. Sure, the Standard Model has lots of predictive/descriptive power, but absolutely ZERO explanatory power.

I'm not trolling here, I really don't understand it and really want to know: what's the strange obsession with exoplanets, and what do we learn besides simply cataloging them?

Re:Can someone explain something to me? (4, Insightful)

osu-neko (2604) | about a year and a half ago | (#43140879)

The premise behind your question is the fallacy of the convertibility of human time and resources, as if we're all interchangeable and equally qualified to participate in any task. Let me put it this way: how much further would we get into understanding the Standard Model if the millions of people playing World of Warcraft would work on that instead?

Once you already have the world's theoretical physicists working on theoretical physics problems like like, what makes you think people in other fields would make a useful contribution?

Astronomers look for objects in the sky because they're astronomers. They aren't going to crack problems of theoretical high-energy physics, and they're not in the mood to play WoW 24/7...

Re:Can someone explain something to me? (1)

NoNonAlphaCharsHere (2201864) | about a year and a half ago | (#43141027)

I should have know the Standard Model aside would distract. My question isn't why aren't astronomers working on the Standard Model, it's why aren't astronomers working on Dark matter/energy? Why aren't astronomers working on the question of the constancy of gravity and the speed of light everywhere? Why aren't astronomers working on the topology of spacetime?

In other words why are astronomers working on exoplanets when there are so many other (IMO) more interesting astronomical questions?

Re:Can someone explain something to me? (2)

Daetrin (576516) | about a year and a half ago | (#43141211)

Because they're astronomers and not astro-physicists or physicists.

If you mean why are they observing nearby stars instead of whatever observations you think would help astro-physicists and physicists with the kind of research you think is important, that would be because not everyone has your priorities.

1: It's quite possible that knowing what's immediately around us will prove of more practical value than high level physics. High level physics _might_ enable fantastic new technologies. Or it might not. Or it might, but at a much later date. We might end up launching unmanned probes and generation ships to nearby systems long before we get anything of practical benefit from high level physics.

2: If you want to base it on pure knowledge instead of practical results, why can't some people be more curious about what's around us than about esoteric forms of matter? Maybe finding out more about local systems (the ones we can observe most easily) will give us better ideas about where to look for alien intelligence, and wouldn't finding another intelligent race be just as amazing as figuring out what/where the dark matter is?

3: Return on investment. There is plenty of investment into high level physics. How do you think the Higgs Boson was (probably) found? But we've already picked a lot of the low hanging fruit in that area. Clearly the explosion in exoplanet data in recent years means technology has advanced to the point where such discoveries are fairly easy. No one knows for sure what we need to do to find the dark matter, but we know what we need to do to find more/more about exoplanets, so it's almost a guaranteed return on investment.

Re:Can someone explain something to me? (1)

skids (119237) | about a year and a half ago | (#43141615)

Data from seemingly unrelated surveys has been used many times in the past to prove important theries. So your question is like asking Hubbel "why do you spend so much time looking at starlight spectra?"

Oodles and oodles of methodical empirical data gathering happen all the time these days, but the only status reports the mass media is interested in carrying are those that feather the imagination of the general public. Like discovering things we might just possibly be able to send a probe to someday.
(And wondering whether there is more to be discovered even closer to us.)

Just because there are few mass media articles about data gathering in pursuit of other goals, does not mean none is occuring, and not all research critical to proving that theory is/was done with that intent.

Re:Can someone explain something to me? (2)

osu-neko (2604) | about a year and a half ago | (#43141151)

...too much intellectual bandwidth, funding, and future research proposals go into the search for exoplanets.

Sorry for the double-post, but in my haste I neglected to notice the second and more pernicious fallacy here. There's a school of thought that says if you have problems A, B, C, and D to solve, but you determine problem A is by far the most important, that you should devote all your resources into solving A and ignore B, C, and D until you've solved A. This is an incredibly bad idea for numerous reasons, but principally there's the problem of diminishing returns. The more funding you throw at A, the less you're getting per dollar. Indeed in fields like science, it's by no means certain that you're getting anything at all -- the needed breakthrough may come on the same timetable regardless of how much money you throw at it. In the meanwhile, you make no progress on B, C, and D where even a few dollars would make immense progress. If A is more important, you throw more money at it, but you don't starve all the other problems, you throw money at them too, just less. Looking for objects in the sky isn't a very expensive task relatively speaking. And just in general, the optimal approach for maximizing progress on problems (whether it's research or other kinds of problems) usually involves an "all at once" approach, giving more to the priorities but not starving the others, and particularly in cases where it's not clear spending even more money on A would be at all helpful, whereas spending money on B clearly would be. Scientific problems in particular don't necessarily advance based on amount of money thrown at them.

A third problem here is that what you're asking for is solutions to known unknowns. We tend to prioritize finding answers to questions we already know, but really the most impressive scientific advances come when we discover things we didn't even know enough to know were in question. Thus, much of science should always be devoted to looking for new things, discovering stuff, etc. Sure, all we've found today was a rather uninteresting brown dwarf, but how much would our understanding of the universe have been advanced if we'd found something that we never even had an inkling might be there? At that point, throwing money at solving known issues with theoretical physics would seem truly wasteful compared to what we got just looking at to see what's out there. We look for exoplanets and brown dwarfs and things because as much as we think we know about them, until we look, we don't really know, and we could very well be wrong, and the consequences of what we discover in the process might be far more significant than any research project you can name, indeed depending on what we find, might be more significant than anything we can even currently conceive of.

Re:Can someone explain something to me? (1)

DanielRavenNest (107550) | about a year and a half ago | (#43142471)

> I just don't understand the current astronomical obsession with nearby stars/solar systems and exoplanets.

Maybe you should read up on what astronomers are actually working on this decade, instead of what you *think* they are working on. Exoplanets are a relatively small part of the astronomical enterprise. This report is a good starting point:

http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=12951 [nap.edu] (there is a free pdf download option if you register).

Discovered the third-closest? (1)

wonkey_monkey (2592601) | about a year and a half ago | (#43140777)

Astronomers Discover Third-Closest Star System To Earth

What impresses me most is that they kept the third spot clear until they made the discovery. How dey do dat?

Re:Discovered the third-closest? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43141071)

And what makes them know that this is the third-closest in the universe?
I would have understood if they said it was the third-closes so far, but apparently they know for sure.

Re:Discovered the third-closest? (1)

tibit (1762298) | about a year and a half ago | (#43142213)

If you don't understand that the "so far" part is always implied, you don't get what science is. There are very few absolutes. Theories are subject to revision, nothing wrong with that.

Re:Discovered the third-closest? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43141139)

Astronomers Discover Third-Closest Star System To Earth

What impresses me most is that they kept the third spot clear until they made the discovery. How dey do dat?

Mod this one up. It's an excellent, if humorous, question.

What happens when the merge? (1)

Brit_in_the_USA (936704) | about a year and a half ago | (#43140967)

What is going to happen when this binary pair of brown dwarfs ultimately merge?
Will the combined mass be enough to start fusion and a main sequence star?
Will it have a period of instability resulting in high energy particle or "solar flare" emissions that could have implications to our solar system?

From the article... Alpha Centuri B has a planet? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43141049)

that to me is more exciting than the brown dwarf!

Third closest system? (2)

rossdee (243626) | about a year and a half ago | (#43141385)

What makes this the third closest system to earth?

The closest solar system is our solar system (orbiting the sun whish is 1AU away
the second is the Centauri system (Proxima Centauri and Alpha Centauri a and Alpha Centauri B
the third closest system is Barnards Star which is less than 6 LY away, so it is closer than this newly discovered system

Re:Third closest system? (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43141613)

Debug your code. The index starts at zero.

Huh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43141849)

Shouldn't that have been the third overall star system that they found? They can see 14 billion light years away, but they couldn't see that?

Re:Huh? (1)

tibit (1762298) | about a year and a half ago | (#43142475)

Distance doesn't always follow visibility. There are things that are far away but are much brighter than some of the nearby stuff, so are easier to notice. For the example of our Solar neighborhood, by number and by mass most of the stars are faint (magnitude > 14), and "all" of the light comes from the most luminous ones (from here [astro.rug.nl] ). What you see at 14 billion l.y. away is entire galaxies, not individual stars.

Nibiru (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43141877)

They found it! Zeta Talk Revival!

very interesting (3, Interesting)

kilodelta (843627) | about a year and a half ago | (#43142257)

And I still maintain if we had funded NASA like we funded them in the 1960's and early 1970's we'd be at Alpha Centauri or Barnard's Star by now. But instead we'd prefer to fund military misadventure. However look at the private interest in mining asteroids - that will be cool!

Re:very interesting (1)

jonadab (583620) | about a year and a half ago | (#43142895)

> if we had funded NASA like we funded them in the 1960's and
> early 1970's we'd be at Alpha Centauri or Barnard's Star by now

I'm pretty sure you are underestimating how far it is to those places. Without a *major* breakthrough in propulsion techniques (or quantum physics), we could fund NASA with 10% of the entire world's budget and still not get to Alpha Centauri for another five hundred years.

Re:very interesting (1)

kilodelta (843627) | about a year and a half ago | (#43143061)

Well they're just now starting to figure out warp drive - and it appears Alcubiere had the wrong estimate for reaction mass. He had said you'd need something the mass of Jupiter. But recent calculations say you only need a couple of tons of reaction mass.

Re:very interesting (2)

cusco (717999) | about a year and a half ago | (#43142971)

With the assumption that NASA funding was going to continue unabated the roadmap in (IIRC) 1970 showed the opening of the first permanently manned Lunar base in 1984, with a manned mission to Mars launching by the end of the '80s. Sigh.

Re:very interesting (1)

kilodelta (843627) | about a year and a half ago | (#43143063)

Yep, and that was based on no real advancement in technology.

Re:very interesting (2)

Kjella (173770) | about a year and a half ago | (#43143495)

And I still maintain if we had funded NASA like we funded them in the 1960's and early 1970's we'd be at Alpha Centauri or Barnard's Star by now.

Earth-Moon: 356,700 km (closest)
Earth-Mars: 54,600,000 km (closest)
Earth-Alpha Centauri: 42,479,700,000,000 km (~fixed)

Fastest spacecraft to date (escape velocity): Voyager 1 (1977), 17.145 km/s

Now assume we could launch at that speed and travel a straight line:
Moon: 6 hours
Mars: 37 days
Alpha Centauri: 75000 years, give or take a couple millenniums

To be there now, we'd have to have launched a rocket ship travelling at 0.1c (that's 30000 km/s) in the early 70s. Even the "Momentum Limited" Orion which is the closest thing to a semi-plausible design we have - if you call a rocket 140 times the size of the Saturn V loaded with 300,000 one megaton nukes plausible - was planned to take 133 years. Maintain it all you like, but don't be surprised when other people maintain that you have no idea what you're talking about.

Re:very interesting (1)

kilodelta (843627) | about a year and a half ago | (#43143569)

I'm talking purely of FTL not chemical rockets. FTL is things like 12 light years in a single jump.

Re:very interesting (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43143969)

I'm talking purely of FTL not chemical rockets. FTL is things like 12 light years in a single jump.

So send your FTL design to NASA. I'm sure they'll be glad to receive it. The reason we don't have FTL yet is because no one has found a way to break the known laws of physics at any cost.

from what department? (1)

TuxCoder (1641657) | about a year and a half ago | (#43143413)

from the third-sun-from-the-rock dept.
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