Cool as Morning Joe: Coldest Star Yet Discovered

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Next time you take a sip of coffee, consider the possibility that you could be sipping on a star.

Not just any star, and certainly not for taste or blend, but the temperature? Maybe, according to a new study that claims a star found using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and 75 light years away from us is no hotter than a sauna, cup of tea, or mug of joe. In fact it may be so cool that it actually has clouds made of water.

The star, named CFBDSIR 1458+10B, is what astronomers call a brown dwarf. It’s basically a tiny ball of hot (in this case, tea or coffee “hot”) gases, say lithium and methane, with minimal luminosity, but which are otherwise too small and gravitationally anemic to catalyze nuclear reactions.

How do you determine the temperature of something that’s light years away? With a spectrometer, which measures the light reflected by an object to determine everything from its chemical composition and surface temperature to its rotational speed and the strength of its magnetic field.

The surface temperature of CFBDSIR (I want to say sif-buh-diss-er) is right around 200 degrees Fahrenheit. By comparison, our own sun’s surface temp is around 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit, while the star Bellatrix in the constellation Orion is around 38,240 degrees Fahrenheit.

The hottest star in the known universe? Probably Eta Carinae, 7,500 light years distant, with a surface temperature of about 71,450 degrees Fahrenheit. By comparison, CFBDSIR seems positively frigid.

“At such temperatures we expect the brown dwarf to have properties that are different from previously known brown dwarfs and much closer to those of giant exoplanets,” said Michael Liu, a researcher at the University of Hawaii, adding that “it could even have water clouds in its atmosphere.”

Cool as it sounds, the brown dwarf’s record-holding days may be numbered. Scientists are already vetting another brown dwarf with a surface temperature in Fahrenheit thought to be lower than the human body’s–a summery 86 degrees.

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