Brown dwarfs -- failed stars that fall somewhere between the smallest stars and the largest planets on the spectrum of heavenly objects -- have always been viewed by astronomers as a critical link in the understanding of how both stars and planets form.
A binary brown dwarf system found in the Orion Nebula gives astronomers their first opportunity to make detailed measurements of the failed stars. Brown dwarfs are stars that, because they lack sufficient mass, fail to achieve nuclear fusion. The star system is oriented so it can be observed edge-on from Earth, giving astronomers a chance to weigh and measure the radii of the stars. Image courtesy: Space Telescope Science Institute
The trouble with brown dwarfs, however, is that they are hard to find and, so far, they have defied nearly all attempts to accurately assess their size.
But now astronomers, including a University of Wisconsin-Madison astronomer, report the discovery of a pair of young brown dwarfs in mutual orbit, a discovery that has enabled scientists to weigh and measure the radius of brown dwarfs for the first time.
The discovery of the paired brown dwarfs and critical measurements of the unsuccessful stars are reported in the March 16 issue of Nature, a leading scientific journal, by a team of astronomers from Vanderbilt University, UW-Madison and the Space Telescope Science Institute.
Robert Mathieu | EurekAlert!
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