Record number of brown dwarfs discovered

(ORDO NEWS) — In nearly three decades of searching, only 40 brown dwarfs have been imaged around stars. An international team led by researchers from the Open University and the University of Bern directly imaged the four new brown dwarfs using an innovative new search method.

Brown dwarfs are mysterious astronomical objects that fill the gap between the heaviest planets and the lightest stars, with a combination of stellar and planetary characteristics. Thanks to this hybrid nature, these mysterious objects are critical to improving our understanding of both stars and giant planets.

Brown dwarfs that orbit a parent star at a sufficiently large distance are of particular value because they can be photographed directly, unlike those that are too close to their star and therefore hidden by its brightness.

“Companions of brown dwarfs in wide orbit are rare, and detecting them directly presents enormous technical difficulties, as host stars completely dazzle our telescopes,” says Mariangela Bonavita. Most of the previous studies have focused on random stars from young clusters.

“We have developed the COPAINS tool, which predicts the types of companions that may be responsible for the observed anomalies in the motions of stars,” adds Clemence Fontanive.

Using the COPAINS tool, the research team carefully selected 25 nearby stars that appeared promising for direct detection of hidden low-mass satellites based on data from the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Gaia spacecraft.

Using the SPHERE planetary finder on the Very Large Telescope in Chile to observe these stars, they have successfully discovered ten new satellites orbiting Jupiter to Pluto, including five low-mass stars, a white dwarf (dense stellar remnant) and four new brown dwarfs.

“These results greatly increase the number of known brown dwarfs orbiting stars at large distances, greatly increasing their detection rate compared to any previous imaging review,” explains Mariangela Bonavita.

While this approach is currently limited to the signatures of brown dwarfs and stellar companions, future phases of the Gaia mission will allow these techniques to be applied to lower masses and discover new giant exoplanets.”

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