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Third-Closest Star System To Earth Discovered (PICTURES)

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Astronomers have found the third closest star system to our own - the nearest in almost a century.

The snappily named system - official moniker WISE J104915.57-531906 - is just 6.5 light years from Earth and is the third-closest ever found.

The system is in fact a pair of "brown dwarf" stars, which orbit each other and possibly have planets of their own.

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Above: An artists' impression of the binary system

The stars are the closest discovered since 1916. Alpha Centauri, the closest star to us at 4.4 light years, was found in 1839. Barnard's Star, discovered in 1916, is 6 light years from Earth.

Discovered by Kevin Luhman at Penn State using Nasa's Wide-field Infrared Survey map of the night sky, the stars are two small in mass to ever ignite hydrogen fusion.

As such they resemble a planet like Jupiter more than our own Sun.

Above: animated GIF of the WISE images Luhman used to discover the star system

Still they might be a good place to search for planets, their discoverer claims:

"It will be an excellent hunting ground for planets because it is very close to Earth, which makes it a lot easier to see any planets orbiting either of the brown dwarfs." Since it is the third-closest star system, in the distant future it might be one of the first destinations for manned expeditions outside our solar system."

Luhman found the system by studying time-lapse images of the sky produced by WISE, and noticing that it was moving so quickly that it was likely to be quite close to our solar system.

"Based on how this star system was moving in the images from the WISE survey, I was able to extrapolate back in time to predict where it should have been located in the older surveys and, sure enough, it was there," Luhman said.

"It was a lot of detective work."

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