ESO's Very Large Telescope Used to Create Weather Map of Nearest Brown Dwarf

Posted on February 1, 2014

Luhman 16B weather map

The ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT) has been used to create a weather map of Luhman 16B, a brown dwarf about six-light years from Earth. Luhman 16B is also known as WISE J104915.57-531906.1B. Brown dwarfs are too big to be considered a planet, but do not contain enough mass to initiate nuclear fusion in their cores like stars. Luhman 16B is one of two brown dwarfs in the southern constellation of Vela (The Sail).

To map the surface the astronomers observed the brown dwarfs using the CRIRES instrument on the VLT. This enabled astronomers to see the changing brightness as Luhman 16B rotated and determine whether dark and light features were moving away from, or towards the observer. By combining all this information they recreated a map of the dark and light patches of the surface. The astronomers say the atmospheres of brown dwarfs are very similar to those of hot gas giant exoplanets.

The research was published here in the journal, Nature.

Ian Crossfield of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy and lead author of the new paper, says in a statement, "Our brown dwarf map helps bring us one step closer to the goal of understanding weather patterns in other solar systems. From an early age I was brought up to appreciate the beauty and utility of maps. It's exciting that we're starting to map objects out beyond the Solar System!"

Here are two animations of Luhman 16B created from VLT observations. The first is a surface map and the second is an artist's impression. Take a look:

Image: ESO/I. Crossfield/N. Risinger

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