Astronomers discover massive storm raging on distant star
A team of astronomersmaking use of data collected by NASA's Kepler telescope has spotted aleviathan storm raging on the surface of a tiny, distant star. Thestorm, which is believed to be comfortably large enough to swallowthree Earth-sized planets within its expanse, is comprised of cloudsof tiny minerals and is thought to be similar in nature to Jupiter's"Great Red Spot".
The star on which the storm was discovered is nothing like thestellar body at the centre of our solar system. Known as W1906+40, it's located 53 light-years from Earth in the constellation Lyra, and belongs to a class of stars known as L-dwarfs. This type of star burns relativelycool, with surface temperatures of around 3,500º F (1,927º C, 2,200 Kelvin), allowing for the formation of extreme weather of thetype recently observed on W1906+40.
Often stars of thistype fail to maintain the atomic fusion reaction that causes stars togenerate light, resulting in a failed star known as a brown dwarf.However, based on the estimated age of W1906+40, astronomers believethat the L-dwarf achieved and maintained atomic fusion.
The new study focussedon roughly two years of observational data collected Kepler, duringwhich time it recorded periodic dips in brightness from W1906+40.This pattern of dimming would ordinarily result from an occultationthat takes place when an orbiting exoplanet passes between Kepler andthe parent star, blocking its light in the process.
However, based onprevious observations made in 2011 by the Spitzer Space Telescope,astronomers knew that the dimming they were observing was in fact notfrom a passing planet, but due instead to some other phenomenon.
Initially, researcherspostulated that the dimming could have been the result of a vastsunspot present on the surface of W1906+40. This type of solaractivity occurs when the surface temperature of a star drops in alocalized area due to a concentration in the stellar body's magneticfield.
The follow-up revealedthat the culprit for the unusual readings was a huge solar storm.Similar in nature to Jupiter's Great Red Spot, the newly-discovered storm rotates around the star roughly once every ninehours, and has been observed to have lasted for over two years.
Moving forward, theteam hope to observe other known stars and brown dwarfs in search ofsimilar weather systems.
A paper on thediscovery has been accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal.