Scientists have uncovered a very strange phenomenon emanating from a small region outside our solar system. Intrigued, they pointed their telescopes at a red light that seemed to flicker and discovered that they were looking at the aurora of a brown dwarf.
Close enough to the constellation Lyra, the researchers found an aurora light emanating a brown-reddish hue. This glow looks very much like our own northern lights, yet is about one million times brighter than those if our Earth, and it’s a different color, as our lights are green.
But another thing baffles scientists. Besides being the first aurora to be spotted outside of the Solar System, the first aurora to be observed on a brown dwarf, it’s also the first aurora to be observed on a plane where there are no possible outside electron generating bodies to cause such lights.
Let me explain. For Earth, to give the obvious example, the aurora borealis is caused by charged light particles from the sun hitting the atmosphere in the northern part of our planet. Interacting with the oxygen there, they cause green lights to cover the sky.
For other planets of the Solar System, there are other causes to the auroras. They mainly have to do with the sun, but the lights in their atmosphere change according to the chemical reaction taking place. Jupiter, for example, being a bit far off from the sun to make its own beautiful lights with its rays, has devised a new method of having auroras. It’s northern, as well as southern lights are purple in color, and they are form when charged particles jump off of its moon Io’s thin atmosphere. These particles are caused by volcanic eruptions on the moon’s surface.
But for LSR J1835, discovered using three different earthly telescopes, Hale, Keck, as well as the Very Large Array, there is no spatial object nearby to give a viable explanation to its reddish lights. Scientists have two speculative theories as to why this is the case.
The first, however strange, may well be the likeliest. It is possible, scientists say, that the brown dwarf strips itself of materials and charged particles necessary for auroras. The second explanation would be that there is an undetectable object nearby from which the particles bounce off. The dwarf star’s hue is red in color due to the high concentration of hydrogen that it has in its atmosphere.
This new discovery, intriguing as it may be, actually helps scientists learn a great deal about dwarf stars. Up until now, these objects were considered stars, albeit faint and dying in light. But now, scientists speculate that they may be much closer to planets.
Image source: bbc.co.uk