spaceSpace and Physics

Failed Star Found In Our Solar Neighborhood By Citizen Scientists


Jonathan O'Callaghan

Senior Staff Writer

The newly discovered brown dwarf is circled here. NASA

A group of citizen scientists has discovered a failed star, or brown dwarf, about 100 light-years from Earth. The findings are published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

The discovery was made by a project called Backyard Worlds: Planet 9. This launched back in February this year, with the goal of trying to find the theorized ninth planet of our Solar System.


But the project is also looking for brown dwarfs, too. These are objects that are larger than gas giant planets but smaller than stars, being too low mass to ignite fusion at their cores. As such, they are relatively dim and hard to find – and sometimes we even mistake them for rogue planets, too.

They do, however, give off a noticeable infrared glow. And as Backyard Worlds is using NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) telescope, it was able to pick up the glow of one in particular – the first discovery for the project.

“I was so proud of our volunteers as I saw the data on this new cold world coming in,” said Jackie Faherty, a senior scientist in the American Museum of Natural History’s Department of Astrophysics and one of Backyard World’s researchers, in a statement. “It was a feel-good moment for science.”

The object is called WISEA J110125.95+540052.8 but, while we know where it is, we only have a rough estimate of its mass at about 45 times that of Jupiter. It’s discovery, though, is being heralded as a boon for citizen science. It was discussed just days into the start of the project.


There are 37,000 users involved in Backyard Worlds, and four of them were involved in making this discovery. If you’d like to get involved yourself via the Zooniverse website, you can do so right here.

Most of the focus of the project is on finding Planet Nine, a theorized Neptune-sized world lurking at the edge of the Solar System. According to various models, it should appear in some of the images.

The project works by taking images from the WISE mission and having people sift through them. Objects of interest like brown dwarfs or Planet Nine will glow in infrared in the images, whereas more ordinary stars and the other planets shine in visible light.

It's theorized there could be many brown dwarfs lurking all over our galaxy. Given how quick this latest object was found, that seems to be a pretty safe bet. Now it’s just time to find that pesky ninth planet.


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