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.
This artist's conception portrays a free-floating brown dwarf, or failed star. A new study shows that several of these objects are warmer than previously thought with temperatures about 250-350 degrees Fahrenheit. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
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."
Characterizing these cold brown dwarfs is challenging because they emit most of their light at infrared wavelengths, and they are very faint due to their small size and low temperature.
To get accurate temperatures, astronomers need to know the distances to these objects. "We wanted to find out if they were colder, fainter, and nearby or if they were warmer, brighter, and more distant," explains Dupuy. Using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, the team determined that the brown dwarfs in question are located at distances 20 to 50 light-years away.
To determine the distances to these objects the team measured their parallax - the apparent change in position against background stars over time. As the Spitzer Space Telescope orbits the Sun its perspective changes and nearby objects appear to shift back and forth slightly. The same effect occurs if you hold up a finger in front of your face and close one eye and then the other. The position of your finger seems to shift when viewed against the distant background.
But even for these relatively nearby brown dwarfs, the parallax motion is small. "To be able to determine accurate distances, our measurements had to be the same precision as knowing the position of a firefly to within 1 inch from 200 miles away," explains Adam Kraus, professor at the University of Texas at Austin and the other author of the study.
The new data also present new puzzles to astronomers that study cool, planet-like atmospheres. Unlike warmer brown dwarfs and stars, the observable properties of these objects don't seem to correlate as strongly with temperature. This suggests increased roles for other factors, such as convective mixing, in driving the chemistry at the surface. They also find evidence for disappearing alkali elements that are likely getting incorporated into noxious clouds.
This study examined the initial sample of the coldest brown dwarfs discovered in the WISE survey data. Additional objects discovered in the past two years remain to be studied and will hopefully shed light on some of these outstanding issues.
A paper describing these results, authored by Dupuy and Kraus, appears in the Sept. 5, 2013 issue of Science Express online.
Headquartered in Cambridge, Mass., the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) is a joint collaboration between the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and the Harvard College Observatory. CfA scientists, organized into six research divisions, study the origin, evolution and ultimate fate of the universe.
For more information, contact:David A. Aguilar
Christine Pulliam | EurekAlert!
APEX takes a glimpse into the heart of darkness
25.05.2018 | Max-Planck-Institut für Radioastronomie
First chip-scale broadband optical system that can sense molecules in the mid-IR
24.05.2018 | Columbia University School of Engineering and Applied Science
The more electronics steer, accelerate and brake cars, the more important it is to protect them against cyber-attacks. That is why 15 partners from industry and academia will work together over the next three years on new approaches to IT security in self-driving cars. The joint project goes by the name Security For Connected, Autonomous Cars (SecForCARs) and has funding of €7.2 million from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Infineon is leading the project.
Vehicles already offer diverse communication interfaces and more and more automated functions, such as distance and lane-keeping assist systems. At the same...
A research team led by physicists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has developed molecular nanoswitches that can be toggled between two structurally different states using an applied voltage. They can serve as the basis for a pioneering class of devices that could replace silicon-based components with organic molecules.
The development of new electronic technologies drives the incessant reduction of functional component sizes. In the context of an international collaborative...
At the LASYS 2018, from June 5th to 7th, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) will be showcasing processes for the laser material processing of tomorrow in hall 4 at stand 4E75. With blown bomb shells the LZH will present first results of a research project on civil security.
At this year's LASYS, the LZH will exhibit light-based processes such as cutting, welding, ablation and structuring as well as additive manufacturing for...
There are videos on the internet that can make one marvel at technology. For example, a smartphone is casually bent around the arm or a thin-film display is rolled in all directions and with almost every diameter. From the user's point of view, this looks fantastic. From a professional point of view, however, the question arises: Is that already possible?
At Display Week 2018, scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP will be demonstrating today’s technological possibilities and...
So-called quantum many-body scars allow quantum systems to stay out of equilibrium much longer, explaining experiment | Study published in Nature Physics
Recently, researchers from Harvard and MIT succeeded in trapping a record 53 atoms and individually controlling their quantum state, realizing what is called a...
25.05.2018 | Event News
02.05.2018 | Event News
13.04.2018 | Event News
25.05.2018 | Event News
25.05.2018 | Machine Engineering
25.05.2018 | Life Sciences