Astronomers have reportedly discovered signs of water clouds 7.3 light-years away from Earth.
The water clouds would be the first to be found beyond our solar system, if the discovery is confirmed. The findings will be published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.
Kevin Luhman, an astronomer at Pennsylvania State University, University Park, found the clouds with images taken from 2010 to 2011 by NASA's WISE infrared telescope. The clouds surround a brown dwarf — a.k.a. a "failed star" that has faded and cooled — named WISE J0855-0714. WISE J0855-0714 is the coldest brown dwarf known to scientists, with a temperature lower than water's freezing point.
"I've been obsessed with this object since its discovery," Jacqueline Faherty, an astronomer at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C., told Science magazine. "I'm absolutely elated." Faherty used Chile's Magellan Baade telescope to capture images that matched previous models of a brown dwarf with water clouds.
The evidence is still tentative, but scientists are fascinated with the discovery's implications. If water clouds are confirmed outside our solar system, the findings could provide astronomers with new information about space's atmospheres. Science reports that the brown dwarf will likely be explored further by NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, which is in the assembly and test process. --Meghan DeMaria