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Scientists solve mystery of blinking brown dwarfs

Dim objects called brown dwarfs, less massive than the Sun but more massive than Jupiter, have powerful winds and clouds – specifically, hot patchy clouds made of iron droplets and silicate dust. Scientists recently realized these giant clouds can move and thicken or thin surprisingly rapidly, in less than an Earth day, but did not understand why.

Now, researchers including Université de Montréal astrophysicist Étienne Artigau have a new model for explaining how clouds move and change shape in brown dwarfs, using insights from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope. Giant waves cause large-scale movement of particles in brown dwarfs’ atmospheres, change the thickness of the silicate clouds, the researchers report in the journal Science.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-CALTECH

With Artigau and McGill University astrophysicist Nicolas Cowan, both members of the Center for Research in Astrophysics of Quebec and the Institute for Research on Exoplanets, the international team of researchers include was led by the study’s principal author, Daniel Apai, associate professor of astronomy and planetary sciences at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

The study also suggests these clouds are organized in bands confined to different latitudes, traveling with different speeds in different bands.
Like Jupiter’s belts and zones