Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Coldest Brown Dwarfs Blur Lines between Stars and Planets

06.09.2013
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.


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
Director of Public Affairs
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
617-495-7462
daguilar@cfa.harvard.edu
Christine Pulliam
Public Affairs Specialist
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
617-495-7463
cpulliam@cfa.harvard.edu

Christine Pulliam | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.cfa.harvard.edu

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht A 100-year-old physics problem has been solved at EPFL
23.06.2017 | Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne

nachricht Quantum thermometer or optical refrigerator?
23.06.2017 | National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Can we see monkeys from space? Emerging technologies to map biodiversity

An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Quantum thermometer or optical refrigerator?

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

A 100-year-old physics problem has been solved at EPFL

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Equipping form with function

23.06.2017 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>