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NASA’s Exoplanet Hunter Telescope Spies Powerful Winds and Jet Stream System in the Closest Brown Dwarfs

Brown dwarfs are excellent and easier-to-study analogs of giant exoplanets. Hiding just two parsecs (6 or 7 light years, or 1.5 times the distance of the nearest star) from the Sun are two cool brown dwarfs that form the Luhman 16AB binary system (discovered by Kevin Luhman, a 1998 PhD of our Astronomy program). Studies of these systems can help understand how giant exoplanets look, unraveling their climates, wind patterns, and atmospheric dynamics. No telescope, however, is powerful enough to take detailed images of the disks of brown dwarfs to find out whether they are dominated by localized storms (vortices) or by a global jet stream system.

Steward Observatory and Lunar and Planetary Laboratory Associate Professor Daniel Apai and his team used a novel approach to deduce the atmospheric properties of Luhman 16B. With the help of NASA’s TESS exoplanet hunter telescope, they observed how the brown dwarf’s brightness changes over a hundred rotations. These changes — and the analysis of their periodicity — revealed that Luhman 16B is home to powerful winds and an exciting and complex jet stream system.

This figure shows the main results of the story. This Youtube video also summarizes the data and results. The University of Arizona press release can be found HERE. The journal paper (may need a subscription) can be found HERE.
 

 

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