A rogue, planet-size object 20 light-years away from Earth has stunned astronomers with its incredibly powerful magnetic field.
The scientists found that the object's magnetic field is more than 200 times stronger than Jupiter's, which, in turn, is between 16 and 54 times stronger than Earth's, according to NASA. How the object, which scientists call SIMP J01365663+0933473, can maintain a magnetic field so strong, as well as generate spectacular auroras, is still unclear.
"This particular object is exciting because studying its magnetic dynamo mechanisms can give us new insights on how the same type of mechanisms can operate in extrasolar planets — planets beyond our solar system," lead study author Melodie Kao, an astrophysicist at Arizona State University, said in a statement from the National Radio Astronomy Observatory published Aug. 2.
On earth, auroras are the result of the interaction of the solar wind with earth's magnetic field and upper atmosphere. But in interstellar space? Galactic wind?
The object is what scientists call a brown dwarf. Nicknamed "failed stars," brown dwarfs are larger than planets, but not quite large enough to fuse hydrogen, the way stars do. The boundary line is still debated, but scientists tend to draw it at about 13 times the mass of Jupiter.
Originally, scientists thought SIMP J01365663+0933473 was a gigantic, old brown dwarf. But further study showed that it is instead relatively young, at 200 million years old, and is only 12.7 times the mass of Jupiter. That research also showed that the planet is on its own, not orbiting a 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," Kao said in the statement. "We think these mechanisms can work not only in brown dwarfs, but also in both gas giant and terrestrial planets."
The Astronomer's Telegram is a bulletin board of observations posted by accredited researchers - so while these are genuine detections, it's important to note that they haven't been peer reviewed as yet and independent teams haven't verified that the signals are from space.
That sounds like a silly thing to say, but let's not forget that back in 1998, researchers thought they had discovered a new type of radio signal coming from space, only to figure out 17 years later that it was coming from a microwave oven in their research facility. Or even the very recent rediscovery of Mars.
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So what do scientists think these weird signals could be?
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