Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Astronomers Discover Beginnings Of 'Mini' Solar System

Date:
February 9, 2005
Source:
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Summary:
Moons circle planets, and planets circle stars. Now, astronomers have learned that planets may also circle celestial bodies almost as small as planets. NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has spotted a dusty disk of planet-building material around an extraordinarily low-mass brown dwarf, or "failed star."

This artist's conception shows the relative size of a hypothetical brown dwarf-planetary system (below) compared to our own solar system.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle (SSC)

Moons circle planets, and planets circle stars. Now, astronomers have learned that planets may also circle celestial bodies almost as small as planets.

NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has spotted a dusty disk of planet-building material around an extraordinarily low-mass brown dwarf, or "failed star." The brown dwarf, called OTS 44, is only 15 times the mass of Jupiter. Previously, the smallest brown dwarf known to host a planet-forming disk was 25 to 30 times more massive than Jupiter.

The finding will ultimately help astronomers better understand how and where planets -- including rocky ones resembling our own -- form.

"There may be a host of miniature solar systems out there, in which planets orbit brown dwarfs," said Dr. Kevin Luhman, lead author of the new study from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge, Mass. "This leads to all sorts of new questions, like 'Could life exist on such planets?' or 'What do you call a planet circling a planet-sized body? A moon or a planet?'"

Brown dwarfs are something of misfits in the astronomy world. These cool orbs of gas have been called both failed stars and super planets. Like planets, they lack the mass to ignite and produce starlight. Like stars, they are often found alone in space, with no parent body to orbit.

"In this case, we are seeing the ingredients for planets around a brown dwarf near the dividing line between planets and stars. This raises the tantalizing possibility of planet formation around objects that themselves have planetary masses," said Dr. Giovanni Fazio, an astronomer at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and a co-author of the new study.

The results were presented today at the Planet Formation and Detection meeting at the Aspen Center for Physics, Aspen, Colo., and will be published in the Feb. 10th issue of The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Planet-forming, or protoplanetary, disks are the precursors to planets. Astronomers speculate that the disk circling OTS 44 has enough mass to make a small gas giant planet and a few Earth-sized, rocky ones. This begs the question: Could a habitable planet like Earth sustain life around a brown dwarf?

"If life did exist in this system, it would have to constantly adjust to the dwindling temperatures of a brown dwarf," said Luhman. "For liquid water to be present, the planet would have to be much closer to the brown dwarf than Earth is to our Sun."

"It's exciting to speculate about the possibilities for life in such as system, of course at this point we are only beginning to understand the unusual circumstances under which planets arise," he added.

Brown dwarfs are rare and difficult to study due to their dim light. Though astronomers recently reported what may be the first-ever image of a planet around a brown dwarf called 2M1207, not much is understood about the planet-formation process around these odd balls of gas. Less is understood about low-mass brown dwarfs, of which only a handful are known.

OTS 44 was first discovered about six months ago by Luhman and his colleagues using the Gemini Observatory in Chile. The object is located 500 light-years away in the Chamaeleon constellation. Later, the team used Spitzer's highly sensitive infrared eyes to see the dim glow of OTS 44's dusty disk. These observations took only 20 seconds. Longer searches with Spitzer could reveal disks around brown dwarfs below 10 Jupiter masses.

Other authors of this study include Dr. Paola D'Alessia of the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico; and Drs. Nuria Calvet, Lori Allen, Lee Hartmann, Thomas Megeath and Philip Myers of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center, Pasadena, Calif. JPL is a division of Caltech. The infrared array camera, which spotted the protoplanetary disk around OTS 44, was built by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.; its development was led by Fazio.


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 Discover Beginnings Of 'Mini' Solar System." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 February 2005. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/02/050208231840.htm>.
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. (2005, February 9). Astronomers Discover Beginnings Of 'Mini' Solar System. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 30, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/02/050208231840.htm
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "Astronomers Discover Beginnings Of 'Mini' Solar System." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/02/050208231840.htm (accessed July 30, 2014).

Share This




More Space & Time News

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Russia Saves Gecko Sex Satellite, Media Has Some Fun With It

Russia Saves Gecko Sex Satellite, Media Has Some Fun With It

Newsy (July 27, 2014) The satellite is back under ground control after a tense few days, but with a gecko sex experiment on board, the media just couldn't help themselves. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
NASA EDGE: OCO-2 Launch

NASA EDGE: OCO-2 Launch

NASA (July 25, 2014) NASA EDGE webcasts live from Vandenberg AFB for the launch of the Oribiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO) launch. Video provided by NASA
Powered by NewsLook.com
This Week @ NASA, July 25, 2014

This Week @ NASA, July 25, 2014

NASA (July 25, 2014) Apollo 11 celebration, Next Giant Leap anticipation, ISS astronauts appear in the House and more... Video provided by NASA
Powered by NewsLook.com
Space to Ground: Coming and Going

Space to Ground: Coming and Going

NASA (July 25, 2014) One station cargo ship leaves, another arrives, aquatic research and commercial spinoffs. Questions or comments? Use #spacetoground to talk to us. Video provided by NASA
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:
from the past week

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