The scene seems like a storm over a sea of lava somewhere in Mordor, but you are looking at the surface of a failed star—the weather on a brown dwarf based on new data from the Spitzer Space Telescope. It's spectacular. Even more so when you think that's not water falling from the sky.

Published in a NASA article titled Stormy Stars? NASA's Spitzer Probes Weather on Brown Dwarfs, this artist rendering is based on the findings of a study of "44 brown dwarfs as they rotated on their axis for up to 20 hours." The artists did a great job because the storms must be really spectacular, according to their description:

Scientists think that the cloudy regions on brown dwarfs take the form of torrential storms, accompanied by winds and, possibly, lightning more violent than that at Jupiter or any other planet in our solar system. However, the brown dwarfs studied so far are too hot for water rain; instead, astronomers believe the rain in these storms, like the clouds themselves, is made of hot sand, molten iron or salts.


A team of scientists lead by principal investigator Stanimir Metchev—from the University of Western Ontario—found that half of the brown dwarfs showed the variations that indicate these massive storm systems. They actually postulate that most have weather systems:

When you take into account that half of the objects would be oriented in such a way that their storms would be either hidden or always in view and unchanging, the results indicate that most, if not all, brown dwarfs are racked by storms.


Brown dwarfs are failed stars that don't have enough mass and pressure to ignite the fusion of hydrogen in their cores.

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