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Photo Reveals Planet-Size Object as Cool as Earth

October 19, 2011 Leave a comment

Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/Francis Reddy

Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/Francis Reddy

The photo of a nearby star and its orbiting companion — whose temperature is like a hot summer day in Arizona — will be presented by Penn State Associate Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics Kevin Luhman during the Signposts of Planets conference at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center on 20 October 2011. A paper describing the discovery will be published in theAstrophysical Journal.

“This planet-like companion is the coldest object ever directly photographed outside our solar system,” said Luhman, who led the discovery team. “Its mass is about the same as many of the known extra-solar planets — about six to nine times the mass of Jupiter — but in other ways it is more like a star. Essentially, what we have found is a very small star with an atmospheric temperature about cool as the Earth’s.”

Luhman classifies this object as a “brown dwarf,” an object that formed just like a star out of a massive cloud of dust and gas. But the mass that a brown dwarf accumulates is not enough to ignite thermonuclear reactions in its core, resulting in a failed star that is very cool. In the case of the new brown dwarf, the scientists have gauged the temperature of its surface to be between 80 and 160 degrees Fahrenheit — possibly as cool as a human.

Full Story: http://science.psu.edu/news-and-events/2011-news/Luhman10-2011

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“Failed Stars” Galore with One Youngster Only Six Times Heftier than Jupiter

October 11, 2011 Leave a comment

An international team of astronomers has discovered over two-dozen new free-floating brown dwarfs that reside in two young star clusters. One brown dwarf is a lightweight youngster only about six times heftier than Jupiter. What’s more, one cluster contains a surprising surplus of brown dwarfs; it harbors half as many of these astronomical oddballs as normal stars. These findings come from deep surveys and extensive follow-up observations using the Subaru Telescope in Hawaii and the Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile, two of the world’s largest optical-infrared telescopes.

Sometimes described as failed stars, brown dwarfs are unusual celestial objects that straddle the boundary between stars and planets. When young, they glow brightly from the heat of formation, but they eventually cool down and end up with atmospheres that exhibit planet-like characteristics.

During the course of the SONYC (Substellar Objects in Nearby Young Clusters) Survey, astronomers used Subaru Telescope to take extremely deep images of the NGC 1333 and rho Ophiuchi star clusters at both optical and infrared wavelengths. Once they identified candidate brown dwarfs from their very red colours, the research team verified their nature with spectra taken at Subaru and the VLT. The team’s findings are reported in two upcoming papers in the Astrophysical Journal and will be presented this week at a scientific conference in Garching, Germany.

Full Story: http://www.subarutelescope.org/Pressrelease/2011/10/11/index.html