VLA Detects Possible Extrasolar Planetary-Mass Magnetic Powerhouse

Dec 2014
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The Milky Way
Most interesting. The more we learn, we learn we know less than we think we do.



VLA Detects Possible Extrasolar Planetary-Mass Magnetic Powerhouse



Astronomers using the National Science Foundation’s Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) have made the first radio-telescope detection of a planetary-mass object beyond our Solar System. The object, about a dozen times more massive than Jupiter, is a surprisingly strong magnetic powerhouse and a “rogue,” traveling through space unaccompanied by any parent star.

“This object is right at the boundary between a planet and a brown dwarf, or ‘failed star,’ and is giving us some surprises that can potentially help us understand magnetic processes on both stars and planets,” said Melodie Kao, who led this study while a graduate student at Caltech, and is now a Hubble Postdoctoral Fellow at Arizona State University.

Brown dwarfs are objects too massive to be considered planets, yet not massive enough to sustain nuclear fusion of hydrogen in their cores — the process that powers stars. Theorists suggested in the 1960s that such objects would exist, but the first one was not discovered until 1995. They originally were thought to not emit radio waves, but in 2001 a VLA discovery of radio flaring in one revealed strong magnetic activity.

Subsequent observations showed that some brown dwarfs have strong auroras, similar to those seen in our own Solar System’s giant planets. The auroras seen on Earth are caused by our planet’s magnetic field interacting with the solar wind. However, solitary brown dwarfs do not have a solar wind from a nearby star to interact with. How the auroras are caused in brown dwarfs is unclear, but the scientists think one possibility is an orbiting planet or moon interacting with the brown dwarf’s magnetic field, such as what happens between Jupiter and its moon Io.

The strange object in the latest study, called SIMP J01365663+0933473, has a magnetic field more than 200 times stronger than Jupiter’s. The object was originally detected in 2016 as one of five brown dwarfs the scientists studied with the VLA to gain new knowledge about magnetic fields and the mechanisms by which some of the coolest such objects can produce strong radio emission. Brown dwarf masses are notoriously difficult to measure, and at the time, the object was thought to be an old and much more massive brown dwarf.

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https://public.nrao.edu/news/planetary-mass-powerhouse/
 
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Jan 2012
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Vacaville, CA
The object is 20 light years from Earth. When I first read the headline, I thought this was an object near our own solar system.