Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Astronomers Find Sun's Coolest Neighbors

Date:
June 3, 1999
Source:
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Summary:
A pair of near-infrared telescopes sponsored by NASA and the National Science Foundation has detected the coolest brown dwarfs ever seen -- celestial objects that are neither fish nor fowl, or in this case, neither planet nor star.

A pair of near-infrared telescopes sponsored by NASA and the National Science Foundation has detected the coolest brown dwarfs ever seen -- celestial objects that are neither fish nor fowl, or in this case, neither planet nor star.

Brown dwarfs are often thought of as "stellar wannabes." They are failed stars that never got hot enough to ignite the nuclear fusion process that makes stars shine brightly. On the other hand, they tend to be more massive than planets and do not form around a star, as the planets in our solar system did.

"These latest discoveries are merging the fields of stellar astronomy and planetary science," said Adam Burgasser, physics graduate student at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA. He is leading the hunt for these objects along with Dr. Davy Kirkpatrick, senior staff scientist at the JPL/Caltech Infrared Processing and Analysis Center.

After sorting through millions of celestial objects, Burgasser discovered four brown dwarfs in images taken by a pair of 1.3-meter (51-inch) telescopes near Tucson, AZ, and at Cerro Tololo, Chile. The telescopes, used for the Two-Micron All Sky Survey (2MASS), study near-infrared wavelengths that can't be seen by the naked eye. They sense heat and thus detect heat-emitting objects like stars and galaxies normally hidden by curtains of cold dust. In this case, the brown dwarfs are too cold to be seen in visible wavelengths, but 2MASS was able to detect the small amounts of heat they emit.

Armed with this information, Michael Brown, Caltech assistant professor of planetary astronomy, studied the objects using the Keck Telescope atop Mauna Kea, HI, to look for the presence of methane, a telltale chemical fingerprint of very cool brown dwarfs.

"Methane forms only in objects cooler than 900 degrees Celsius (1,652 Fahrenheit)," Burgasser said. "That's only four times hotter than the maximum setting on a conventional kitchen oven."

"We think these brown dwarfs are only 30 light years away," said Kirkpatrick. "Because our telescopes can only see the closest examples, this means the Milky Way must be brimming with objects like these." The newly discovered brown dwarfs are located in the constellations of Ursa Major (the Big Dipper), Leo, Virgo, and Corvus.

The 2MASS telescopes are in the midst of a 3-1/2-year survey of the entire sky. The survey is designed to catalog one million galaxies, 300 million stars, and other celestial objects throughout our Milky Way galaxy. The 2MASS telescopes actually discovered five methane brown dwarfs, but one of them had been found previously by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, also supported by NASA and the National Science Foundation.

The 2MASS project is based at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where its principal investigator Dr. Michael Skrutskie is a physics and astronomy professor. The JPL/Caltech Infrared Processing and Analysis Center combines and processes 2MASS images into usable data.

As part of NASA's Origins Program, 2MASS is funded by NASA's Office of Space Science and the National Science Foundation. Results from 2MASS will benefit future Origins missions, including Space Infrared Telescope Facility and the Next Generation Space Telescope. JPL manages the program for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, DC. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA.

The current images, and additional 2MASS information and images are available at the following website:

http://www.ipac.caltech.edu/2mass

2MASS information and images are also available at:

http://pegasus.phast.umass.edu


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "Astronomers Find Sun's Coolest Neighbors." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 June 1999. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1999/06/990603071419.htm>.
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. (1999, June 3). Astronomers Find Sun's Coolest Neighbors. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 30, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1999/06/990603071419.htm
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "Astronomers Find Sun's Coolest Neighbors." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1999/06/990603071419.htm (accessed September 30, 2014).

Share This



More Space & Time News

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

The Water You Drink Might Be Older Than The Sun

The Water You Drink Might Be Older Than The Sun

Newsy (Sep. 27, 2014) — Researchers at the University of Michigan simulated the birth of planets and our sun to determine whether water in the solar system predates the sun. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
First Woman Cosmonaut in 17 Years Blasts Off for ISS

First Woman Cosmonaut in 17 Years Blasts Off for ISS

AFP (Sep. 26, 2014) — A Russian Soyuz spacecraft carrying an American astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts, including the first woman cosmonaut in 17 years, blasted off on schedule Friday. Duration: 00:35 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Water Discovery On Small Planet Could Be Key To Earth 2.0

Water Discovery On Small Planet Could Be Key To Earth 2.0

Newsy (Sep. 25, 2014) — Scientists have discovered traces of water in the atmosphere of a distant, Neptune-sized planet. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: US-Russian Crew Lifts Off for Space Station

Raw: US-Russian Crew Lifts Off for Space Station

AP (Sep. 25, 2014) — A U.S.-Russian space crew has blasted off successfully for the International Space Station. The Russian Soyuz-TMA14M spacecraft lifted off from the Russian-leased Baikonur launch facility in Kazakhstan. (Sept. 25) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Space & Time

Matter & Energy

Computers & Math

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins