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Posts Tagged ‘brown dwarf’

Rare Brown Dwarf Discovery Provides Benchmark For Future Exoplanet Research

January 21, 2014 Leave a comment

CREDIT: CREPP ET AL. 2014, APJ

CREDIT: CREPP ET AL. 2014, APJ

A team of researchers led by Justin R. Crepp, the Freimann Assistant Professor of Physics at the University of Notre Dame, has directly imaged a very rare type of brown dwarf that can serve as a benchmark for studying objects with masses that lie between stars and planets. Their paper on the discovery was published recently in Astrophysical Journal.

Initial data came from the TRENDS (TaRgetting bENchmark-objects with Doppler Spectroscopy) high-contrast imaging survey that uses adaptive optics and related technologies to target older, faint objects orbiting nearby stars, and precise measurements were made at the W. M. Keck Observatory on the summit of Mauna Kea, Hawaii. Brown dwarfs emit little light because they do not burn hydrogen and cool rapidly. Crepp said they could provide a link between our understanding of low-mass stars and smaller objects such as planets.

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Stormy Stars? NASA’s Spitzer Probes Weather On Brown Dwarfs

January 7, 2014 Leave a comment

Artist's concept. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Western Ontario/Stony Brook University

Artist’s concept. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Western Ontario/Stony Brook University

Swirling, stormy clouds may be ever-present on cool celestial orbs called brown dwarfs. New observations from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope suggest that most brown dwarfs are roiling with one or more planet-size storms akin to Jupiter’s “Great Red Spot.”

“As the brown dwarfs spin on their axis, the alternation of what we think are cloud-free and cloudy regions produces a periodic brightness variation that we can observe,” said Stanimir Metchev of the University of Western Ontario, Canada. “These are signs of patchiness in the cloud cover.”

Brown dwarfs form as stars do, but lack the mass to fuse atoms continually and blossom into full-fledged stars. They are, in some ways, the massive kin to Jupiter.

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.

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Coldest Brown Dwarfs Blur Lines Between Stars And Planets

September 6, 2013 Leave a comment

Astronomers are constantly on the hunt for ever-colder star-like bodies, and two years ago a new class of objects was discovered by researchers using NASA’s WISE space telescope. However, until now no one has known exactly how cool their surfaces really are – some evidence suggested they could be room temperature.

A new study shows that while these brown dwarfs, sometimes called failed stars, are indeed the coldest known free-floating celestial bodies, they are warmer than previously thought with temperatures about 250-350 degrees Fahrenheit.

To reach such low surface temperatures after cooling for billions of years means that these objects can only have about 5 to 20 times the mass of Jupiter. Unlike the Sun, these objects’ only source of energy is from their gravitational contraction, which depends directly on their mass.

“If one of these objects was found orbiting a star, there is a good chance that it would be called a planet,” says Trent Dupuy, a Hubble Fellow at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. But because they probably formed on their own and not in a proto-planetary disk, astronomers still call these objects brown dwarfs even if they are “planetary mass.”

Full Story: http://www.cfa.harvard.edu/news/2013/pr201323.html

NASA Telescopes See Weather Patterns In Brown Dwarf

January 11, 2013 Leave a comment

Artist's illustration. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Artist’s illustration. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Astronomers using NASA’s Spitzer and Hubble space telescopes have probed the stormy atmosphere of a brown dwarf, creating the most detailed “weather map” yet for this class of cool, star-like orbs. The forecast shows wind-driven, planet-sized clouds enshrouding these strange worlds.

Brown dwarfs form out of condensing gas, as stars do, but lack the mass to fuse hydrogen atoms and produce energy. Instead, these objects, which some call failed stars, are more similar to gas planets with their complex, varied atmospheres. The new research is a stepping-stone toward a better understanding not only of brown dwarfs, but also of the atmospheres of planets beyond our solar system.

“With Hubble and Spitzer, we were able to look at different atmospheric layers of a brown dwarf, similar to the way doctors use medical imaging techniques to study the different tissues in your body,” said Daniel Apai, the principal investigator of the research at the University of Arizona in Tucson, who presented the results at the American Astronomical Society meeting Tuesday in Long Beach, Calif.

Full Story: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?release=2013-013

Even Brown Dwarfs May Grow Rocky Planets: ALMA Sizes Up Grains Of Cosmic Dust Around Failed Star

December 2, 2012 Leave a comment

Astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) have for the first time found that the outer region of a dusty disc encircling a brown dwarf contains millimetre-sized solid grains like those found in denser discs around newborn stars. The surprising finding challenges theories of how rocky, Earth-scale planets form, and suggests that rocky planets may be even more common in the Universe than expected.

Rocky planets are thought to form through the random collision and sticking together of what are initially microscopic particles in the disc of material around a star. These tiny grains, known as cosmic dust, are similar to very fine soot or sand. However, in the outer regions around a brown dwarf — a star-like object, but one too small to shine brightly like a star — astronomers expected that grains could not grow because the discs were too sparse, and particles would be moving too fast to stick together after colliding. Also, prevailing theories say that any grains that manage to form should move quickly towards the central brown dwarf, disappearing from the outer parts of the disc where they could be detected.

“We were completely surprised to find millimetre-sized grains in this thin little disc,” said Luca Ricci of the California Institute of Technology, USA, who led a team of astronomers based in the United States, Europe and Chile. “Solid grains of that size shouldn’t be able to form in the cold outer regions of a disc around a brown dwarf, but it appears that they do.”

Full Story: http://www.eso.org/public/news/eso1248/

Can Life Emerge On Planets Around Cooling Stars?

November 28, 2012 Leave a comment

Astronomers find planets in strange places and wonder if they might support life. One such place would be in orbit around a white or brown dwarf. While neither is a star like the sun, both glow and so could be orbited by planets with the right ingredients for life.

No terrestrial, or Earth-like planets have yet been confirmed orbiting white or brown dwarfs, but there is no reason to assume they don’t exist. However, new research by Rory Barnes of the University of Washington and René Heller of Germany’s Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics Potsdam hints that planets orbiting white or brown dwarfs will prove poor candidates for life.

White dwarfs are the hot cores of dead stars and brown dwarfs are failed stars, objects not massive enough to start nuclear burning as the sun does. In theory, both can be bright enough to theoretically support a habitable zone — that swath of space just right for an orbiting planet’s surface water to be in liquid form, thus giving life a chance.

White and brown dwarfs share a common characteristic that sets them apart from normal stars like the sun: They slowly cool and become less luminous over time. And as they cool, their habitable zones gradually shrink inward. Thus, a planet that is found in the center of the habitable zone today must previously have spent time near the zone’s deadly inner edge.

Full Story: http://www.washington.edu/news/2012/11/19/can-life-emerge-on-planets-around-cooling-stars/

“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