When you launch humanity’s most powerful telescope, you expect results. The JWST has delivered excellent results by detecting ancient galaxies, identifying chemicals in exoplanet atmospheres, and peering into star-forming regions with more detail and clarity than any other telescope.
But every time a new telescope is about to enter service, astronomers tell us they’re excited not only about the expected results but also about the surprising results. And like other telescopes, the JWST has also delivered some surprises. While going about its business, the JWST has discovered 21 brown dwarfs.
Astronomers have discovered a pair of star-like objects orbiting each other extremely quickly, with an entire ‘year’ lasting just 1.9 Earth hours. Catchily named ZTF J2020+5033, the system consists of one object which is definitely a small star, and another that straddles the boundary between star and planet. The two objects appear to be very old, and understanding how they came to be orbiting so close together is teaching astronomers more about how solar systems change and evolve.
Gravity is a funny force. The gravity of every given object technically impacts every other given object, though, in practice, large distance and small masses make those forces negligible for such interactions. But in some cases, especially when large groups are floating in empty space, gravity can still hold sway over considerable distances. Such is the case with a new pair of brown dwarfs found by astronomers at the Keck Observatory.
Zooniverse brings out the best of the internet – it leverages the skills of average people to perform scientific feats that would be impossible otherwise. One of the tasks that a Zooniverse project called Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 has been working on has now resulted in a paper cataloguing 525 brown dwarfs, including 38 never before documented ones.
Brown dwarfs are the weird not-planets but not-stars in the universe, and astronomers have wondered for decades if their atmospheres are striped like Jupiter’s, or splotchy like the sun’s. A team of astronomers based at the University of Arizona used NASA’s TESS Observatory to find the answer: if you saw a brown dwarf for yourself, it would look more like a giant planet than a star.
The field of exoplanet photography is just getting underway, with astronomers around the world striving to capture clear images of the more than 4000 exoplanets discovered to date. Some of these exoplanets are more interesting to image and research than others. That is certainly the case for a type of exoplanet called a brown dwarf. And now scientists have captured the first ever image of exactly that type of exoplanet.
Brown dwarfs are smallish objects sitting somewhere between stars and planets, making them notoriously hard to find. But a recent citizen science project aimed at finding the elusive Planet 9 has instead revealed a treasure trove of these oddities, right next door.
Brown dwarfs are in a tough spot. Not quite a star, not quite a planet, they occupy a place between gas giants and stars. They have more mass than gas giants like Jupiter, but not enough to ignite fusion and become a star.
But astronomers still study them. How could they resist?
Sometimes, the strangest stellar finds are right in our own cosmic neighborhood. Astronomers recently made an interesting discovery while putting a new set of telescopes through their paces: an eclipsing pair of sub-stellar brown dwarfs.
You can be thankful that we orbit a placid, main sequence, yellow dwarf star. Astronomers recently spied a massive superflare on a diminutive star, a powerful, radiation spewing event that you wouldn’t want to witness up close.