The research reported in separate studies in Nature and Astrophysical Journal Letters, has provided astronomers with their clearest view yet of the complicated atmospheric processes occurring in these strange worlds.

A brown dwarf is a low-temperature star that has failed to accumulate enough mass to reach the core temperatures and pressures needed to ignite. Some astronomers suggest brown dwarfs bridge the gap between the largest planets and the smallest stars.

Astronomers used the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope in Chile to directly map out lighter and darker patches on the surface of a brown dwarf known as Luhman 16B.

Located just 6.5 light years away, in the southern constellation of Vela the Sail, Luhman 16B is one half of a pair of brown dwarfs discovered last year.