Astronomers only discovered the system last year when the brown dwarfs were spotted in data from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Explorer (WISE). Check out a past Universe Today article on the discovery here. They escaped detection for so long because they are located in the galactic plane, an area densely populated by stars, which are far brighter than the brown dwarfs.
Henri Boffin at the European Southern Observatory led a team of astronomers on a mission to learn more about these newly found dim neighbors. The group used ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) at Paranal in Chile to perform astrometry, a technique used to measure the position of the objects precisely. This crucial data would allow them to make a better estimate of the distance to the objects as well as their orbital period.
Boffin’s team was first able to constrain their masses, finding that one brown dwarf weighs in at 30 times the mass of Jupiter and the other weighs in at 50 times the mass of Jupiter. These light-weight objects orbit each other slowly, taking about 20 years.
WISE J104915.57-531906 as seen in NASA’s All-WISE survey. It was later resolved by the Gemini Observatory to show its binary nature. The possible exoplanet has not yet been directly imaged. Credit: NASA/JPL/Gemini Observatory/AURA/NSF
“Small Very Fast Rotating (VFR) asteroids (bodies with rotation periods as short as 25 sec) are consistent with a population of strange asteroids [with quark dark matter] with core masses of order 10^10 – 10^11 kg.. Those would then be sources of millions of tons of antimatter for future spaceships.
Quark Matter in the Solar System: Evidence for a Game-Changing Space Resource (Marshall Eubanks)
Macroscopic quark matter nuggets are an alternative explanation for Dark Matter (DM) consistent with the observational constraints on this mysterious cosmological component. Such quark matter theories have strong implications in the formation, development and current behavior of the Solar System, as primordial quark nuggets orbiting the Galaxy would be subject to capture during planetary formation, leading to the retention of condensed quark matter in the centers of the Sun, planets and asteroids today, a possibility that needs to be taken seriously in Solar System Research.
As quark nuggets are expected to have a minimum mass set by their physics of their formation, any sufficiently small asteroid with a quark matter core would be a strange asteroid, with a high bulk density and strong gravitational binding. Small strange asteroids would be the easiest nugget hosts to detect observationally, and the most accessible source of quark matter once detected. Solar System observations of small Very Fast Rotating (VFR) asteroids (those with rotation periods ≤ 1/2 hour) support the quark matter nugget hypothesis. If VFR asteroids are assumed to be bound by quark matter cores, the inferred core mass range peaks at ∼10 billion kg, consistent with the stable quark matter mass range predicted by the detailed theory of Zhitnitsky and his colleagues.
As there is a prospect that quark nuggets could be used to produce large amounts of antimatter, the economic benefit from even a single ultra-dense strange asteroid could be little short of astounding. If some of the Near-Earth Objects (NEO) are indeed strange asteroids they would truly constitute a game-change resource for space exploration. It is likely that the quark nugget theory will either be rapidly refuted using Solar System observations, or become a focus of space exploration and development in the remainder of this century.
Nextbigfuture – The solar wind electric sail is a novel propellantless space propulsion concept. According to numerical estimates, the electric sail can produce a large total impulse per propulsion system mass. Here we consider using a 0.5 Newton electric sail for boosting a 550 kg spacecraft to Uranus in less than 6 years. The spacecraft is a stack consisting of the electric sail module which is jettisoned at Saturn distance, a carrier module and a probe for Uranus atmospheric entry. The carrier module has a chemical propulsion ability for orbital corrections and it uses its antenna for picking up the probe’s data transmission and later relaying it to Earth. The scientific output of the mission is similar to what the Galileo Probe did at Jupiter. Measurement of the chemical and isotope composition of the Uranian atmosphere can give key constraints for different formation theories of the solar system. A similar method could also be applied to other giant planets and Titan by using a fleet of more or less identical electric sail equipped probes.