Astronomers stumble upon failed dwarf ’stars’

October 12th, 2011 - 4:54 pm ICT by IANS  

Toronto, Oct 12 (IANS) Astronomers have come across over 24 new free-floating brown dwarfs, including a lightweight youngster only about six times heftier than Jupiter, that reside in two young star clusters.

Brown dwarfs, sometimes described as failed stars, are mid-range objects, too large to be considered a planet but not quite large enough to burn hydrogen and become a star.

“Our findings suggest once again that objects not much bigger than Jupiter could form the same way as stars do,” says Ray Jayawardhana, professor in observational astrophysics at the University of Toronto, who led the international study.

“In other words, nature appears to have more than one trick up its sleeve for producing planetary mass objects,” Jayawardhana added.

Brown dwarfs straddle the boundary between stars and planets. They glow brightly when young, from the heat of formation, but cool down over time and end up with atmospheres that exhibit planet-like characteristics.

Scientists think that most brown dwarfs may have formed like stars, in isolation from contracting gas clouds, but some of the puniest free-floaters may have formed like planets around a star and later ejected, according to a Toronto statement.

The findings come from observations using the Subaru Telescope in Hawaii and the Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile during the Substellar Objects in Nearby Young Clusters (SONYC) survey.

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