The coldest brown dwarf ever observed

Apr 10, 2008
The coldest brown dwarf ever observed
Picture of the brown dwarf CFBDS0059 (small red dot on the top of the picture) and its near-infrared spectrum (lowest curve) illustrating the presence of ammonia. Credit: A&A

An international team led by French and Canadian astronomers has just discovered the coldest brown dwarf ever observed. Their results will soon be published in Astronomy & Astrophysics. This new finding was made possible by the performance of telescopes worldwide: Canada France Hawaii Telescope (CFHT) and Gemini North Telescope, both located in Hawaii, and the ESO/NTT located in Chile.

The brown dwarf is named CFBDS J005910.83-011401.3 (it will be called CFBDS0059 in the following). Its temperature is about 350°C and its mass about 15-30 times the mass of Jupiter, the largest planet of our solar system. Located about 40 light years from our solar system, it is an isolated object, meaning that it doesn't orbit another star.

Brown dwarfs are intermediate bodies between stars and giant planets (like Jupiter). The mass of brown dwarfs is usually less than 70 Jupiter masses. Because of their low mass, their central temperature is not high enough to maintain thermonuclear fusion reactions over a long time. In contrast to a star like our Sun, which spends most of its lifetime burning hydrogen, hence keeping a constant internal temperature, a brown dwarf spends its lifetime getting colder and colder after its formation.

The first brown dwarfs were detected in 1995. Since then, this type of stellar object has been found to share common properties with giant planets, even though differences remain. For example, clouds of dust and aerosols, as well as large amounts of methane, were detected in their atmosphere (for the coldest ones), just as in the atmosphere of Jupiter and Saturn. However, there were still two major differences.

In the brown dwarf atmospheres, water is always in gaseous state, while it condenses into water ice in giant planets; and ammonia has never been detected in the brown dwarf near-infrared spectra, while it is a major component of Jupiter's atmosphere. CFBDS0059, the newly-discovered brown dwarf, looks much more like a giant planet than the known classes of brown dwarfs, both because of its low temperature and because of the presence of ammonia.

To date, two classes of brown dwarfs have been known: the L dwarfs (temperature of 1200-2000°C), which have clouds of dust and aerosols in their high atmosphere; and the T dwarfs (temperature lower than 1200°C), which have a very different spectrum because of methane forming in their atmospheres. Because it contains ammonia and has a much lower temperature than do L and T dwarfs, CFBDS0059 might be the prototype of a new class of brown dwarfs to be called the Y dwarfs. This new class would then become the missing link in the sequence from the hottest stars to giant planets of less than -100°C, by filling the gap now left in the midrange.

This discovery also has important implications in the study of extrasolar planets. The atmosphere of brown dwarfs looks very much like that of giant planets, therefore the same models are used to reproduce their physical conditions.

Such modeling needs to be tested against observations. Observing the atmospheres of extrasolar planets is indeed very hard because the light from the planets is embedded in the much stronger light from their parent stars. Because brown dwarfs are isolated bodies, they are much easier to observe. Thus, looking to brown dwarfs with a temperature close to that of the giant planets will help in testing the models of extrasolar planets' atmospheres.

Source: Astronomy & Astrophysics

Explore further: Computers beat brainpower when it comes to counting stars

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Red skies discovered on extreme brown dwarf

Feb 06, 2014

(Phys.org) —A peculiar example of a celestial body, known as a brown dwarf, with unusually red skies has been discovered by a team of astronomers from the University of Hertfordshire's Centre for Astrophysics ...

First weather map of brown dwarf

Jan 29, 2014

ESO's Very Large Telescope has been used to create the first ever map of the weather on the surface of the nearest brown dwarf to Earth. An international team has made a chart of the dark and light features ...

Planet X myth debunked

Mar 16, 2014

It was an elusive planet that for 200 years appeared to explain Uranus's wobbly orbit. And there was the sister sun theorized to be near our solar system that caused asteroids to swerve toward Earth.

Recommended for you

ESO image: A study in scarlet

18 hours ago

This new image from ESO's La Silla Observatory in Chile reveals a cloud of hydrogen called Gum 41. In the middle of this little-known nebula, brilliant hot young stars are giving off energetic radiation that ...

Astronomers: 'Tilt-a-worlds' could harbor life

Apr 15, 2014

A fluctuating tilt in a planet's orbit does not preclude the possibility of life, according to new research by astronomers at the University of Washington, Utah's Weber State University and NASA. In fact, ...

Pushy neighbors force stellar twins to diverge

Apr 15, 2014

(Phys.org) —Much like an environment influences people, so too do cosmic communities affect even giant dazzling stars: Peering deep into the Milky Way galaxy's center from a high-flying observatory, Cornell ...

Image: Multiple protostars within IRAS 20324+4057

Apr 14, 2014

(Phys.org) —A bright blue tadpole appears to swim through the inky blackness of space. Known as IRAS 20324+4057 but dubbed "the Tadpole", this clump of gas and dust has given birth to a bright protostar, ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Meteorites yield clues to Martian early atmosphere

(Phys.org) —Geologists who analyzed 40 meteorites that fell to Earth from Mars unlocked secrets of the Martian atmosphere hidden in the chemical signatures of these ancient rocks. Their study, published ...

Let's put a sailboat on Titan

The large moons orbiting the gas giants in our solar system have been getting increasing attention in recent years. Titan, Saturn's largest moon, is the only natural satellite known to house a thick atmosphere. ...

Red moon at night; stargazer's delight

Monday night's lunar eclipse proved just as delightful as expected to those able to view it. On the East Coast, cloudy skies may have gotten in the way, but at the National Science Foundation's National Optical ...