Brown Dwarf Flashes Brighter Than the Sun’s Most Powerful Flares

Brown dwarfs lack enough mass to burn nuclear fuel and glow like a star. 
(Image:  NASA/JPL-Caltech)
Brown dwarfs lack enough mass to burn nuclear fuel and glow like a star. (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Brown dwarfs are often referred to as “failed stars”; however, astronomers have discovered a 23-million-year-old dwarf that flashes brighter than the Sun’s most powerful flares. The research team from the University of Delaware, led by John Gizis, a professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, discovered the “ultra-cool” brown dwarf known as 2MASS 0335+23.

The brown dwarf has a temperature of only 4400°F, and can generate flares stronger than the Sun’s, Gizis explained in a statement:

Brown dwarfs begin life the same way as stars (from collapsing clouds of gas and dust). However, they don’t get large and hot enough for hydrogen and helium to fuse at their core. This process generates the nuclear reactions needed to keep a star burning bright for millions and billions of years.

Learn more about brown dwarfs:

The astronomers studied thousands of images from the NASA’s Kepler space telescope, searching for any changes in the dwarf brightness. What the researchers found was the brown dwarf would become twice as bright for two to four minutes. This continued a dozen times over a 3-month period. Gizis explained that:

The brown dwarf is part of the Beta Pictoris moving group, which is a group of stars that were born at the same time, and are all moving parallel in space around 63 light years away. The group originally came from the same part of an interstellar cloud, which was a combination of dust, gas, and space plasma.

As the cloud collapsed, the brown dwarfs became scattered like seeds in the wind. By studying the most unusual and extreme stars like brown dwarfs, Gizis hopes to learn more about ordinary ones. One of the most unique features of brown dwarfs is they do a complete spin every five hours, making for a very short day. Gizis said:

The team is also searching for evidence of clouds and planets. They do this by looking for changes in brightness due to a planet moving in front of a brown dwarf or star. Flares can also have an impact on planets.

As a sun blasts out a massive X-class solar flare, it can release the energy equivalent to a billion hydrogen bombs all exploding at the same time. Earth has felt the effect of such outbursts, affecting satellites and communications systems, as well as electrical power grids. Gizis said:

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