WASHINGTON (TIP): In a first-of-its-kind discovery in nearly a century, Nasa scientists have found the third-closest star system to the Sun – located only 6.5 light-years away. The pair of newly found stars is the closest star system discovered since 1916. Both stars in the new binary system discovered by Nasa’s wide-field infrared survey explorer (WISE) are “brown dwarfs”, which are stars that are too small in mass to ever become hot enough to ignite hydrogen fusion.
As a result, they are very cool and dim, resembling a giant planet like Jupiter more than a bright star like the Sun. “The distance to this brown dwarf pair is 6.5 lightyears – so close that Earth’s television transmissions from 2006 are now arriving there,” said Kevin Luhman, an associate professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State University, University Park, and a researcher in Penn State’s Center for Exoplanets and Habitable Worlds. “It will be an excellent hunting ground for planets because the system is very close to Earth, which makes it a lot easier to see any planets orbiting either of the brown dwarfs,” Luhman said. It is only slightly farther away than the secondclosest star, Barnard’s star, which was discovered 6 light-years from the Sun in 1916.