1m times brighter than the northern lights, a distant aurora has caught our gaze

30 Jul 2015

In deep space at the northern pole of one failed star, a vast aurora stretches across that is 1m-times brighter than our own northern lights, making it the most powerful ever recorded.

Known as brown dwarfs, the failed star that is home to its own northern lights is located 20-light-years away from us and is in a plane of existence that teeters it between being a star with too little hydrogen, while also possessing planet-like characteristics.

The findings by the research team at Caltech in the US is something of an achievement given that, by their nature, brown dwarfs are difficult to spot in deep space and were only captured with the help of powerful radio and optical telescopes.

According to The Guardian, the celestial wonder lies in the constellation of Lyra where its aurora of green and yellow beams an intense, colourful spectacular down on its surface with hydrogen creating a red glow so bright that the human eye would not be able to register it.

Northern lights brown dwarf

Illustration of the brown dwarf via Chuck Carter and Gregg Hallinan/Caltech

Publishing its findings in Nature, the team has now answered one of the big debates in astronomy as to why brown dwarfs appear to rise and fall in brightness, much like a lighthouse.

By discovering that this brown dwarf rotates on its axis every two hours followed by a bright red flash, the team could see that the aurora ‘spot’ was the reason for this flashing.

Designated LSR J1835+32, the brown dwarf is somewhat comparable to our own solar system with it being about the same size as its largest planet, Jupiter, but containing a staggering 80 times as much mass.

Describing what it would be like to experience the aurora if you found yourself on the brown dwarf, lead on the study Gregg Hallinan said: “If you were able to stand on the surface of the brown dwarf we observed—something you could never do because of its extremely hot temperatures and crushing surface gravity—you would sometimes be treated to a fantastic light show courtesy of auroras hundreds of thousands of times more powerful than any detected in our solar system.”

Northern lights image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic