Participants in a scientific project composed of professional and amateur astronomers announced the discovery of something quite interesting. The team identified a brown dwarf – a low-light object whose dimensions are between those of a small star and giant planets, such as Jupiter – relatively young enveloped in what scientists call a circumstellar disc, which means that the celestial body found houses a cosmic motherhood that potentially could give rise to new planets.
Named W1200-7845, the brown dwarf is just over 330 light years away from Earth and is therefore the closest object to our planet yet discovered. She is part of a group of stars known as Epsilon Chamaeleontis, located in the vicinity of the Chamaeleon Constellation, and her identification had the active participation of people who, despite not having a background in Astronomy, are interested in the subject and are part of a project called Disk Detective, funded by NASA.
The proposal involves making images of space observations available to the public – through a platform called Zooniverse – for participants in the initiative to search catalogs in search of space objects or help in the classification of celestial bodies. The main focus is on finding stars (preferably stars) surrounded by cosmic dust and gas discs, since they may contain exoplanets.
In fact, most of the images are part of the collection collected by NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer – WISE – space telescope, which detects infrared emissions, such as those produced by the thermal radiation produced by the materials that usually make up the disks circumstellar. Then, when something is found, professional astronomers are called on to analyze the findings and see what it is about.
In the case of W1200-7845, it was originally identified in 2016 and, at first, classified as a dust and gas disk. Then a team of astronomers got their hands dirty to determine what was the mass that the Disk Detective participants had found, and after studying the object in detail with the Magellan telescopes at the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile, they came across the brown dwarf in the middle.
Returning to the subject of the location of W1200-7845, although 330 light years is not a viable distance for us humans to take a tour of the galaxy, astronomers explained that the dwarf is close enough to be considered as part of our neighborhood. This is excellent news, since, in the case of a small and not very bright object, the proximity of W1200-7845 will allow scientists to study it more easily. And there are already plans to start new observations.
Astronomers plan to use other telescopes to study the W1200-7845, as well as analyze the circumstellar disc – to determine its diameter, mass and composition. As we mentioned earlier, these structures tend to serve as planetary maternity wards, and scientists want to know whether what surrounds the brown dwarf contains the ingredients needed to produce new worlds and, if so, what class of exoplanets would form.