Brown dwarfs are objects that weren't quite massive enough to become stars. Stuck somewhere between lame stars and weird planets, brown dwarfs lead a solitary existence...and this newly-discovered brown dwarf could be the saddest of them all.
Brown dwarfs might just as accurately be called green dwarfs, at least as far as our infrared telescopes are concerned. Because their noxious atmospheres trap blue infrared light and the dwarfs are too weak to emit red infrared light, they show up as green. Indeed, as NASA scientist Amy Mainzer rather puts it, they "jump out at you like big, fat, green emeralds." I didn't think it was possible to emasculate something nearly the size of a star, but that just about did it.
This photo of the brown dwarf doesn't do it any favors either. Do you see all those brilliant lights shining out from various stars in the sky? Well, ignore all those and look at the dull green dot in the center. Yep, that's our baby.
The newly discovered brown dwarf, which has rather memorably been designated WISEPC J045853.90+643451.9, is somewhere between 18 and 30 light-years away. It's one of the coldest brown dwarfs ever discovered, with an estimated temperature of just 620 degrees Fahrenheit. The Sun, by comparison, is about 11,000 degrees Fahrenheit on its surface. Indeed, this brown dwarf is colder than the surface of the planet Venus, and it's not all that much hotter than your average household oven.
Brown dwarfs are made up of a clumpy mixture of gases. It's mostly methane, hydrogen sulfide, and ammonia, all of which are pretty nasty and deadly to humans at the sorts of concentrations found on the brown dwarf. That said, scooping up a little bit of the brown dwarf and bringing it back here wouldn't kill those who came in contact with it, as Mainzer explained:
"If you could bottle up a gallon of this object's atmosphere and bring it back to Earth, smelling it wouldn't kill you, but it would stink pretty badly - like rotten eggs with a hint of ammonia."
So, this object, which could have become a star and shone for millions of years if it just been a little bit bigger, is instead stuck being a cold, noxious, and worst of all smelly lump of gas for all eternity. I don't care how bad a day you might be having, I think this brown dwarf has got you beat.
[Space.com; top image is an artist's impression of a brown dwarf in a binary system with a white dwarf star.]