University of Toledo astronomers make landmark discovery

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TOLEDO (13abc Action News) - University of Toledo astronomers have made a landmark discovery.
It's called a free-floating planetary-mass object. In simple terms, it's a star and the discovery is getting a lot of attention!

James Windsor is a 20-year-old sophomore majoring in Astrophysics at The University of Toledo,"I discovered a planetary mass object called WISEA 1147."

So just what is WISEA 1147? It's a brown dwarf which is a light-weight star that lacks enough mass to fuse hydrogen into helium, the process that makes stars like the sun shine,"One of my favorite things about astronomy is that instead of looking at your place in the dirt here on earth, you begin to worry about your place in the universe."

Windsor's love of all things celestial began at an early age,"Before I was in kindergarten I could name all the astronauts who walked on the moon.I could also name all the planets in the solar system."

As a young student Windsor says he was often tired in class because he'd been out late the night before stargazing, "Mostly it was my father who introduced me to the world of astronomy. I grew up knowing I wanted to be a scientist and astronomy was my calling."

Postdoctoral researcher Dr. Adam Schneider is also one of the co-authors of this discovery. He says WISEA 1147 is about 100 light years away from earth. It's about five to ten times the mass of Jupiter and it's relatively young at just 10 million years old, "You compare that to the sun which is about 4.5 billion years old it's really is young. It's very bright with a lot of heat from its formation."

Dr. Schneider says it's one of the youngest and lowest mass free-floating objects ever discovered in the universe, "There are billions of things in our own galaxy and so trying to pick one out if like finding a needle in a haystack. But you did it! Yes we did."

So just how did Windsor and the team of UT astronomers find WISEA 1147? Windsor says not the way you might expect, "Most of the time was spent staring at a computer terminal and writing code in order to extricate objects through a data base. So instead of looking through the lens of a telescope I was looking at a computer screen."

NASA is even involved with the discovery, "I'm just a kid from Paulding who grew up wanting to be an astronomer and here I am with a public relations paper published by NASA."

Dr. Schneider expects the discovery to attract even more attention, "My guess is that a lot of research groups will point their telescope at this object because it's so interesting."

To learn more and to download images from NASA we've posted a link at the top of the story.