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Astronomers map the weather on a brown dwarf

Jan 31, 2014

Astronomers map the weather on a brown dwarf
Photo: ESO/I. Crossfield/N. Risinger

Think the weather's bad on Earth? Be grateful it's not raining molten iron.

A brown dwarf is an object in space bigger than a planet, but not big enough for the nuclear fusion that powers a star. Thanks to the discovery of a nearby example last year, scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy have been able to study these unusual objects in more detail than ever before - including making a map of the weather on the surface.

It's no place for a holiday. For a start, it's cloudy - but to make it worse, the clouds are at a temperature of 1000 C, and are believed to be made up of tiny droplets of molten iron. The atmosphere itself is mostly hydrogen. But the whole weather system is more complex than just a layer of clouds, with the structure of the clouds changing the further into the atmosphere you go.

If you want to take a closer look at the map, the leader of the research has turned the weather map into an origami template, so that anyone can fold their own brown dwarf at home.

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