Astronomers using data from NASA’s Spitzer and Kepler space telescopes have discovered a tiny star with a giant cloudy storm. The dark storm is akin to Jupiter’s Great Red Spot.
While planets have been known to have cloudy storms, this is the best evidence yet for a star that has one. The star, referred to as W1906+40, belongs to a thermally cool class of objects called L-dwarfs.
Some L-dwarfs are considered stars because they fuse atoms and generate light, as our sun does, while others, called brown dwarfs, are known as “failed stars” for their lack of atomic fusion.
The L-dwarf in the study, W1906+40, is thought to be a star based on estimates of its age (the older the L-dwarf, the more likely it is a star). Its temperature is about 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit (2,200 Kelvin). That may sound scorching hot, but as far as stars go, it is relatively cool. Cool enough, in fact, for clouds to form in its atmosphere.
Spitzer has observed other cloudy brown dwarfs before, finding evidence for short-lived storms lasting hours and perhaps days.
The researchers plan to look for other stormy stars and brown dwarfs using Spitzer and Kepler in the future.