An international team of astronomers, led by Hervé Bouy from the Max Planck Institute, Garching, Germany and the Observatoire de Grenoble, France, have for the first time measured the mass of an ultra-cool brown dwarf star. The team performed the measurements using four of the most powerful telescopes available. This is the first-ever mass measurement of an L-type star belonging to the new stellar class of very low-mass stars, discovered a few years ago. With a mass of 6.6% of the solar mass, this celestial object is a "failed" star, lying between stars and planets in the evolutionary scheme.
Making use of four of the most famous telescopes worldwide, an international team of astronomers made the first-ever direct measurement of the mass of a so-called L-type star. The star, named 2MASSW J0746425+2000321, is a binary star that was observed for four years with the ESO Very Large Telescope (Chile), the Keck and Gemini Telescopes (Hawaii), and the Hubble Space Telescope.
Precise observations of each component of the binary system were required to be able to compute their masses. As both stars are very close to each other, telescopes providing high-resolution images were needed. Additionally, observations had to be performed over a long period of time (four years) to follow the motion of both stars around each other. Very accurate measurements of the relative position of the individual components were made, so that the full orbit of the binary system could be reconstructed, as illustrated in the following picture. Once the orbit was known, the astronomers were able to compute the total mass of the system using Keplers laws. In addition, very precise measurements of the brightness of each star were needed to be able to compute the individual mass of each component of the system. The astronomers calculated the mass ratio of the system from these brightness measurements, using the theoretical models by G. Chabrier and collaborators (Centre de Recherche Astronomique de Lyon, France). Finally, the mass of each component could be determined.
Jennifer Martin | alfa
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