News of the WeekAstronomy

A Gray Day on a Brown Dwarf

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Science  02 Oct 1998:
Vol. 282, Issue 5386, pp. 25-27
DOI: 10.1126/science.282.5386.25

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It's too early for detailed weather forecasts, but two astronomers--one British, one Australian--claim to have detected clouds in the atmosphere of a nearby brown dwarf star. In a paper submitted to the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, they describe subtle color changes which they interpret as evidence that clouds of titanium oxide are sweeping across the disk of the brown dwarf--a star not massive enough to sustain hydrogen fusion in its core. And on page 83 of this issue of Science, researchers in Garching, Germany, announce another first: a brown dwarf that emits x-rays, suggesting that it is spinning very fast and generating a strong magnetic field via a dynamo effect.