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Penn State Professor Makes Historic Space Discovery

A Penn State professor has made a historic space discovery. He's found the coldest brown dwarf.
A Penn State professor has made a historic space discovery. He's found the coldest brown dwarf - which is similar to a star but doesn't burn as bright because it lacks the mass to burn nuclear fuel.

Kevin Luhman, an associate professor in astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State, has discovered two brown dwarfs in the last two years.  His latest discovery - the coldest brown dwarf - is about as cold as the North Pole. It is offering astronomers new ways to study space.

"The neat aspect of this new one, because it is so cold, it's as cold as gas giant planets around other stars, so we can use it as a laboratory for studying the atmospheres of planets," says Luhman.

He first noticed the brown dwarf in satellite scans in March 2013.  He spent the last year further analyzing it and gathering more data.

"One neat aspect of this is that anybody in the world could have identified this; it was there for the taking," Luhman continues.  "You just need the right expertise."

Luhman says he was hoping to discover something in his career but never thought it would be as significant as the coldest brown dwarf ever found.

"The problem is they're very faint and so cold and difficult to see," says Luhman.  "It's challenging to find these objects.  It's kind of like looking for a needle in a haystack."

For right now, the brown dwarf is being referred to by its coordinates in the sky - WISE J085510.83-071442.5 - but Luhman says, per tradition with star masses close to the sun, other astronomers will likely start calling it by his last name soon.
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