Astronomers Discover Possible Exoplanet In Star System of Brown Dwarfs

A mere 6.6 light-years away from Earth, two brown dwarfs (otherwise known as failed stars) named Luhman 16AB reside as the third-closest system to our sun. Luhman 16AB was only discovered this past June, which was exciting in itself. But now, astronomers have just discovered that in this system of brown dwarfs, there's a possible exoplanet — meaning, a planet beyond our Solar System. Cue the alien excitement!

The astronomers, who were led by Henri Boffin of European Southern Observatory, discovered the possible exoplanet via ESO's Very Large Telescope (yep, that's the name) located in Chile's Atacama Desert between April and June 2013. They were conducting a two-month observation using astrometry (or, taking precise measurements of stars' locations).

Here are a couple of the findings scientists concluded from what they saw:

  • The two brown dwarfs are 30-50 times larger than Jupiter in mass, though they're still smaller than our own Sun — which is 1,000 times the size of Jupiter
  • The brown dwarfs take 20 years to orbit around each other
  • From April to June, the astronomers noticed that the orbits deviated slightly, which led them to conclude that a third object might be create the gravitational pull — hence, the possibility of an exoplanet

Take a look at the star system here, as seen via NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer:

And take a look at where it resides in relation to our Solar System, near the top right of the diagram (WISE 1049-5319 is Luhman 16AB's official name):

The astronomers will still have to do further testing to determine if there is, in fact, an alien planet orbiting around the brown dwarfs. But for now, the fact they were able to conclude the possibility via astrometry is a breakthrough in itself. In the past, astronomers have discovered eight exoplanets near brown dwarfs, and all of them were found using methods such as microlensing and direct imaging technology.

For now, though, let's hold off on expecting actual aliens.

Images: Huffington Post, Tumblr