Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Astronomers’ first direct evidence: young low-mass objects are twice as heavy as predicted

20.01.2005


Although mass is the most important property of stars, it has proved very hard to measure for the lowest mass objects in the universe. Thanks to a powerful new camera, a very rare, low-mass companion has finally been photographed.



The discovery suggests that, due to errors in the models, astronomers have overestimated the number of young "brown dwarfs" and "free floating" extrasolar planets. An international team of astronomers lead by University of Arizona Associate Professor Laird Close reports the discovery in today’s (Jan 20.) issue of Nature.

The image has allowed the team to directly measure the mass of a young, very low mass object for the first time. The object, more than 100 times fainter than its close primary star, is 93 times as massive as Jupiter -- almost twice as heavy as theory predicts it should be. Their findings challenge current ideas about the astronomical brown dwarf population and the existence of widely publicized free-floating extrasolar planets.


Brown dwarfs are objects 75 times more massive than Jupiter but not massive enough to burn as stars. If young objects identified as brown dwarfs are twice as massive as has been thought, many actually are low mass stars. Objects recently identified as ’free-floating’ planets are in turn likely just low mass brown dwarfs.

Close of the UA’s Steward Observatory and his international colleagues detected the faint, very-low-mass companion, named AB Dor C, which orbits the very young star AB Doradus A (AB Dor A) at only 2.3 times the distance between the Earth and the sun, or about the distance between the sun and the asteroids beyond Mars.

Astronomers searching for very low mass objects look at young nearby stars because low mass companion objects will be brightest when young, before they contract and cool. Astronomers had suspected since the early 1990s that well-known AB Dor A -- a star 48 light years (14.9 parsecs) from Earth and only 50 million years old -- has a low-mass companion because its position ’wobbles’ as it’s pulled by an unseen companion. But even the Hubble Space Telescope tried and failed to detect the companion because it was too faint and too close to the glare of the primary star.

Close and his colleagues from Germany (Rainer Lenzen, Wolfgang Brandner), Spain (Jose C. Guirado), Chile (Markus Hartung, Chris Lidman), and the United States (Eric Nielsen, Eric Mamajek, and Beth Biller) succeeded in photographing the elusive companion. They used Close and Lenzen’s novel high-contrast camera on the European Southern Observatory’s 8.2-meter Very Large Telescope in Chile in February 2004.

Close and Lenzen developed the new high-contrast adaptive optics camera, the NACO Simultaneous Differential Imager, or NACO SDI, for hunting extrasolar planets. The SDI camera enhances the ability of the powerful 8.2-meter VLT telescope and its existing adaptive optics system to detect faint companions that normally would be lost in the glare of the primary star.

Close and his team are the first to image a companion so faint – 120 times fainter than its star -- and so near its star. The tiny distance between the star and the faint companion (0.156 arcseconds) is the same as the width of a dime (1.5 centimeters) seen 8 miles (13 kilometers) away. Once they located the companion, they observed it at near infrared wavelengths to measure its temperature and luminosity.

"We were surprised to find that the companion was 400 degrees Celsius cooler and 2.5 times fainter than the latest models predicted," Close said.

"We used our discovery of the companion’s exact location, along with the star’s known ’wobble’, to accurately determine the companion’s mass," team member Jose Guirado said.

"Theory predicts that this low-mass, cool object would be about 50 Jupiter masses," Close said. "But theory is incorrect: This object is between 88-98 Jupiter masses. This discovery will force astronomers to rethink what masses of the smallest objects produced in nature really are."

"Objects like AB Dor C are very rare," Wolfgang Brandner said. "Only one percent of stars have close very low mass companions -- and only about one percent of nearby stars are young. Hence, we are very lucky to be able to accurately measure the mass of even a single low mass companion that is accurately known to be young."

The NACO SDI camera is a unique type of camera using adaptive optics, which removes the blurring effects of Earth’s atmosphere to produce extremely shape images. SDI splits light from a single star into four identical images, then passes the resulting beams through four slightly different methane-sensitive filters. When the filtered light beams hit the camera’s detector array, astronomers can subtract the images so the bright star disappears, revealing a fainter, lower-mass methane-rich object otherwise hidden in the star’s scattered light halo.

The National Science Foundation awarded Close a prestigious 5-year, $545,000 Faculty Early Career Development award that supports his search for extrasolar planets using SDI cameras on the European Southern Observatory’s 8.2-meter VLT in Chile and on the UA/Smithsonian 6.5-meter MMT on Mount Hopkins, Ariz. This research was also supported by NASA.

Authors of the Jan. 20 Nature letter, "A dynamical calibration of the mass-luminosity relation at very low stellar masses and young ages," are: Laird Close of the UA Steward Observatory, Rainer Lenzen of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Jose C. Guirado of the University of Valencia (Spain), Eric L. Nielsen of UA Steward Observatory, Eric E. Mamajek of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Wolfgang Brandner of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Markus Hartung and Chris Lindman of the European Southern Observatory (Chile), and Beth Biller of the UA Steward Observatory.

Laird M. Close | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.arizona.edu

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Computer model predicts how fracturing metallic glass releases energy at the atomic level
20.07.2018 | American Institute of Physics

nachricht What happens when we heat the atomic lattice of a magnet all of a sudden?
18.07.2018 | Forschungsverbund Berlin

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: Future electronic components to be printed like newspapers

A new manufacturing technique uses a process similar to newspaper printing to form smoother and more flexible metals for making ultrafast electronic devices.

The low-cost process, developed by Purdue University researchers, combines tools already used in industry for manufacturing metals on a large scale, but uses...

Im Focus: First evidence on the source of extragalactic particles

For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.

To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...

Im Focus: Magnetic vortices: Two independent magnetic skyrmion phases discovered in a single material

For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.

Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...

Im Focus: Breaking the bond: To take part or not?

Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.

A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...

Im Focus: New 2D Spectroscopy Methods

Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.

"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Leading experts in Diabetes, Metabolism and Biomedical Engineering discuss Precision Medicine

13.07.2018 | Event News

Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP: Fine Tuning for Surfaces

12.07.2018 | Event News

11th European Wood-based Panel Symposium 2018: Meeting point for the wood-based materials industry

03.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

A smart safe rechargeable zinc ion battery based on sol-gel transition electrolytes

20.07.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Reversing cause and effect is no trouble for quantum computers

20.07.2018 | Information Technology

Princeton-UPenn research team finds physics treasure hidden in a wallpaper pattern

20.07.2018 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>