Yesterday, scientists announced the discovery of a new class of star, the Y dwarf, whose existence had been theorized for the better part of a decade. As small as 15 Jupiter masses and emitting virtually no light, only a tiny amount of heat, such stars are almost impossible to see with in optical light. However, thanks to infrared wavelengths employed by the new WISE Space Telescope,that all changed.
Because they are so small and cool (some may be as cool as 80 degrees Fahrenheit), any light emitted from a Y dwarf is too tiny an amount to detect with an optical telescope equipped with a high-resolution digital sensor. However, when looking in the infrared radiation, felt by us as heat, things change as infrared telescopes equipped with cameras can pick up the heat signatures of such stars, if one can even call them that as such stars share many characteristics with giant gas planets like Jupiter. To astronomers, the Y-dwarf is now just the latest sub-class type of star discovered, with the Y-dwarfs fitting into the larger category of brown dwarfs.
So, why care at all?
For astronomers, one of the biggest mysteries in the science is the problem of missing matter. To but it simply, in their calculations, physicists estimate the total amount of matter in the universe to be far greater than what is presently detected. So, the question arises: where is all of this extra matter that should be present? Now, the estimates could simply be wrong, this has happened many times in science. On the other hand, if the equations are right, science does have a huge dilemma on its hands.
Over the years, many theories have come forth to answer this question of where this missing matter could be located. Now, with the discovery of these tiny stars, another possible answer presents itself: tiny, dark stars too dim to detect with visible light. Now, while such stars may not (and probably don’t) contain all the missing matter in the universe, they could account for some.
So far, 6 Y-dwarf stars have been discovered, all within 40 light years of the Sun, which is our immediate neighborhood in the greater scheme of the universe. In fact, one of these stars is a mere 9 light years away from us, which makes it the 7th closest star to our Sun. Needless to say, it will be interesting to see what WISE detects in the future.
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