Smashing young stars leave dwarfs in their wake

June 9, 2006
Smashing young stars leave dwarfs in their wake
Visualizations of brown dwarf simulations completed by Sijing Shen for her Master's Thesis (May 2006) under the supervision of James Wadsley.

Astronomers have discovered that the large disks of gas and dust around young stars will fragment if two young stars pass close to each other and form smaller brown dwarfs stars with disks of their own.

The news was announced this week at the Canadian Astronomical Society in Calgary, Alta, by James Wadsley, assistant professor of Physics & Astronomy at McMaster University, and his student Sijing Shen.

"This is an exciting discovery because it may be the dominant way brown dwarfs are made," says Wadsley. "The challenge to theorists was to explain not only the origin of brown dwarfs but also the details telescopes are seeing: brown dwarfs with disks and the systems of many dwarfs orbiting a single regular star. We've done that."

Brown dwarf stars are as common in number as large stars but are no more than 8 percent of the mass of the Sun. Their low mass prevents nuclear fusion in their core so they don't shine like regular stars. Regular stars form from cold dense cores in giant molecular gas clouds. The natural mass of a core is expected to be large, closer to that of a regular star than a brown dwarf so something extra was required to understand the origin of brown dwarfs.

Using SHARCNET (Shared Hierarchical Academic Research Computing Network) parallel computing facilities at McMaster, Shen and Wadsley simulated several encounters between young stars with disks at unprecedented resolution, seeing gas pile-ups, drawn-out tidal arms and huge masses of gas driven closer to the stars. Amid this chaos several small objects were seen to form, from Jupiter-sized objects up to brown dwarfs. Reports from lower resolution simulations by other groups had shown no indication of disks. However, in every case, the new objects had disks with sizes ranging up to 18 astronomical units (the size of Saturn's orbit). As these rapidly spinning disks evolve they should produce jets of gas and even result in the formation of planets orbiting the brown dwarfs. Both these things have been observed in nature.

"We had no idea the simulated results would be so beautiful and complex, and then we found out that observations were revealing brown dwarfs with disks that matched what we were seeing, " said Shen, who is studying for her PhD in Physics & Astronomy at McMaster.

The simulated objects would either leave the stars on their own or in groups, or remain as multiple brown dwarf companions to a star. Telescopes have detected up to three brown dwarfs orbiting a regular star. Thus the brown dwarfs and planets in the simulations are remarkably similar to what is observed. However, it remains to be determined exactly how often such encounters occur in nature and what fraction of those encounters reliably produce brown dwarfs. For this, Shen and Wadsley are planning a much larger set of encounter simulations using SHARCNET's new supercomputers.

Source: McMaster University

Explore further: The dwarf planet Quaoar

Related Stories

The dwarf planet Quaoar

August 28, 2015

The vast Kuiper Belt, which orbits at the outer edge of our solar system, has been the site of many exciting discoveries in the past decade or so. Otherwise known as the Trans-Neptunian region, small bodies have been discovered ...

The gas giant Jupiter

August 26, 2015

Ever since the invention of the telescope four hundred years ago, astronomers have been fascinated by the gas giant known as Jupiter. Between it's constant, swirling clouds, its many, many moons, and its red spot, there are ...

What is A dwarf planet?

August 18, 2015

The term dwarf planet has been tossed around a lot in recent years. As part of a three-way categorization of bodies orbiting the sun, the term was adopted in 2006 due to the discovery of objects beyond the orbit of Neptune ...

Stealing Sedna

August 7, 2015

Turns out, our seemly placid star had a criminal youth of cosmic proportions.

Recommended for you

At Saturn, one of these rings is not like the others

September 2, 2015

When the sun set on Saturn's rings in August 2009, scientists on NASA's Cassini mission were watching closely. It was the equinox—one of two times in the Saturnian year when the sun illuminates the planet's enormous ring ...

New Horizons team selects potential Kuiper Belt flyby target

August 29, 2015

NASA has selected the potential next destination for the New Horizons mission to visit after its historic July 14 flyby of the Pluto system. The destination is a small Kuiper Belt object (KBO) known as 2014 MU69 that orbits ...

Prawn Nebula: Cosmic recycling

September 2, 2015

Dominating this image is part of the nebula Gum 56, illuminated by the hot bright young stars that were born within it. For millions of years stars have been created out of the gas in this nebula, material which is later ...

Image: Hubble sees a youthful cluster

August 31, 2015

Shown here in a new image taken with the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) on board the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope is the globular cluster NGC 1783. This is one of the biggest globular clusters in the Large Magellanic ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.