We’re launching a brand new feature on Liminal Fiction – “Writer Fuel – cool real-world stories that might inspire your little writer heart. Today:
Astronomers have taken the first detailed look at a mysterious Milky Way object known as “The Accident” — and discovered that it’s even more perplexing than previous studies indicated. The Accident is not quite a star (scientists can tell from its dim glow that there’s no nuclear fusion powering the object), and it’s not quite a planet, either. According to a study published June 30 in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, The Accident is something in between — a rare class of object known as a brown dwarf, or a failed star.
Brown dwarfs can be up to 80 times larger than Jupiter, but they typically hold just a tiny fraction of the mass of Earth’s sun, according to Brittanica. Astronomers suspect that these objects start their lives like stars but don’t accumulate enough mass to sustain nuclear fusion in their cores; instead, brown dwarfs slowly cool and dim over millions or billions of years until they’re nothing more than dull red or purple embers.
While brown dwarfs are far too dim to see with the naked eye, scientists have detected about 2,000 such objects in the Milky Way using infrared telescopes, like NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE). The Accident turned up in one such NEOWISE survey of the sky, when a citizen scientist caught a glimpse of the object swooping across the screen and photo-bombing a different group of brown dwarf candidates. (This accidental discovery gave the object its nickname).