Aurora More Powerful Than Northern Lights Spotted Outside Solar System

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A team of international scientists has discovered an aurora light display outside our solar system for the first time. Though its glow is similar to that of the Northern Lights, it is 10,000 times more powerful than the Northern Lights. The aurora light display was spotted using the Hale and Keck optical telescopes, and the Very Large Array radio telescope around a brown dwarf 18 light years away.

The aurora lights a brown dwarf

Dr Stuart Littlefair of the University of Sheffield and co-author of the study, said it was the first confirmed citing of this spectacular phenomenon. Astronomers refer to brown dwarfs as “failed stars,” meaning they are bigger than a planet but too small to become a star. But the latest discovery indicates that brown dwarfs are more similar to planets than stars. Dr Littlefair said it’s time we think of brown dwarfs as “beefed-up planets” instead of failed stars.

We already know that brown dwarfs have cloudy atmospheres like planets. And the new study shows that they also host “powerful auroras.” Findings of the study were published in the journal Nature. Scientists said the aurora light display was more red than green in color. Dr Gregg Hallinan of the California Institute of Technology said brown dwarfs don’t resemble stars in terms of magnetic gravity either.

Why is it more red than green?

The light display was detected around the brown dwarf LSR J1835 located in the constellation Lyra. Using optical and radio telescopes, astronomers observed the object as it quickly rotated, and studied how the light changed. The brown dwarf’s aurora is red in color because the charged particles that enter its magnetic field interact with hydrogen in the atmosphere. In contrast, our planet’s aurora has a greenish glow because charged particles from the Sun interact with oxygen atoms.

The dazzling display of auroras can appear around all the planets in our solar system.

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