Small star like W1906+40 experiences massive Jupiter-like storm

Till very recently, it was believed that the Big Red Spot on Jupiter is the biggest example of a long-lasting storm in the universe. However, recent revelations made by scientists suggest that the giant planet has a competitor in another star system. The only difference is that, scientists haven’t found the exo-storm on any gas giant; instead they have located it in the topmost layer of a cool, tiny star.

The brown-dwarfs are basically special subsets of small stellar objects and possess both planet-like and star-like characteristics. Colloquially, these structures are referred to as “failed stars”. They are actually too big to be tagged as planets, and too small to be called stars. In other words, they form a bridge between stars and planets and can be several times heavier than a massive planet like Jupiter (however, the physical size of a brown-dwarf is almost same as that of the giant planet).

In a way, the brown dwarfs can be referred to as celestial mongrels. They showcase properties of both planets and stars, but cannot be clearly tagged as a planet or a star.

For instance, although a large share of the bigger brown-dwarfs (like the L and M-dwarfs) might experience low level fusions at their cores (like most other stars do) those fusions are not enough for increasing the temperature of the object beyond 2000 degrees. As a result, atmosphere of these objects might become layered or stratified, and start demonstrating planet-like features such as clouds and powerful storms (like the one, scientists have just spotted in the topmost layer of a cool, tiny star).

The Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer of NASA discovered W1906+40 more than four years back, in 2011. Soon after this discovery, the astronomers understood that the object is located within the vision trajectory of the agency’s exoplanet-hunting space telescope Kepler.

Usually, Kepler focuses on the transits of exoplanets orbiting in front of their respective host stars. However, at times, the space telescope also performs the job of detecting starspots. For those who don’t know: starspots are actually massive dark patches of magnetic activities taking place in the topmost stellar layers.

In this case, astronomers used Kepler for detecting a massive dark patch rotating with the spins of L-dwarf. To find out whether that was another star boasting a huge, dark cluster of starspots in the same way as the sun does during high magnetic activities, astronomers took assistance from another NASA mission called the Spitzer Space Telescope.

They found that the dark feature spotted on W1906+40 was not induced by magnetism, which meant that it’s not a star spot. Eventually, the astronomers came to know that the dark patch was actually a huge, dark storm taking place near the star’s North Pole.