Water ice clouds have been discovered for the first time outside our solar system. They have been seen around giant planets like Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune and Uranus but not beyond.

The findings are the result of 151 images using a near infrared camera to detect the coldest brown dwarf W0855 over three nights, according to the Carnegie Institute.

Signs of frozen clouds of sulfide and water were found when the team of scientists compared their near-infrared images of W0855 with models for predicting the atmospheric content of brown dwarfs.

As the fourth-closest system to our own Sun, W0855 can be said to be a close neighbour in astronomical distances. It was first detected by Nasa's Wide-Field Infrared Explorer mission earlier this year but this is the first time it has been detected by Earth-based facilities.

The findings are published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

The team led by Carnegie's Jacqueline Faherty used the FourStar near infrared camera at the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile to detect the object.

"Ice clouds are predicted to be very important in the atmospheres of planets beyond our Solar System, but they've never been observed outside of it before now," Faherty said.

Brown dwarfs fall between small stars and giant planets in size and mass. While they are too small to sustain the hydrogen fusion that fuels stars, their temperatures can vary from being hot like a star to cool as a planet.

They are of particular interest to scientists because they offer clues to star-formation processes. Found in isolation they are easier to study than planets.