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NASA James Webb Space telescope picks up mysterious lights on planet 47 light-years away

NASA James Webb Space telescope picks up mysterious lights on planet 47 light-years away

A fascinating discovery has been made on a distant brown dwarf.

NASA has just made a really intriguing discovery on a distant planet 47 light-years away, in the form of mysterious lights in its atmosphere.

The apparent aurorae are much like our northern lights - the name we commonly give to aurora borealis - which come about because of the interaction between a planet's magnetic sphere and particles from the Sun.

The ribbons of light, dancing through the sky, have mesmerized onlookers for millennia here on Earth, but it turns out that the ones NASA just spotted far from our solar system are way more enigmatic.

Noppawat Tom Charoensinphon / Getty

The planet in question is something called a brown dwarf, a huge planet bigger than our solar system's largest, Jupiter, but still smaller than a star. It's been given the designation W1935, but has one obvious characteristic that makes its aurorae confusing.

As we've mentioned, aurorae in our solar system and others are normally caused in large part by that system's star - but W1935 doesn't have a host star.

This means that the forces causing the aurorae are, in NASA's own words, "a mystery", which isn't the sort of thing you normally expect to hear from astronomers.

All of the data that has led to this discovery was captured by the James Webb telescope, and was part of a project investigating brown dwarfs further.

W1935 was already interesting, because it looked like an almost identical clone of another brown dwarf, W2220, but the key difference between the two was the presence of aurorae on the former, while they were absent on the latter.

NASA, ESA, CSA, Leah Hustak (STScI)

Jackie Faherty, an astronomer at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, led the team looking into the brown dwarfs, and she explained how it felt when it started to become clearer what they were looking at.

"We expected to see methane because methane is all over these brown dwarfs. But instead of absorbing light, we saw just the opposite: The methane was glowing. My first thought was, what the heck? Why is methane emission coming out of this object?" she said.

If that all sounds a bit baffling, don't worry - all the scientists involved are basically confused too, but they're clearly very excited by it all.

After all, this is a fascinating discovery, and with the help of the Webb telescope they'll now be able to dedicate resources to figuring the whole problem out - and in the process will learn ever more about how space works.

Featured Image Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and L. Hustak (STScI) / NEMES LASZLO/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY/Getty