AstroTalk Episode July 20, 2017

Brown Dwarfs

3:01pm - 3:29pm

Rosa Castro is an amateur astronomer by night. She is involved in the Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 citizen science project. NASA is using the WISE Space Telescope (Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer) to scour the sky for a 9th planet that is supposedly lurking somewhere beyond Pluto. But they are also wise enough to use WISE to search for Brown Dwarfs (BD). A BD is essentially a failed sun, or a failed star. It is bigger than Jupiter, roughly 13 - 80 Jupiter masses, but a BD dose not have enough mass to force itself to begin the process of nuclear fusion. Rosa Castro found 1 such BD, WISEA J110125.95+540052.8, when she was combing through some data provided by NASA. Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 is a citizen science project, where ordinary citizens comb through data from WISE, that NASA has provided for the public to examine. Planet 9 has identified 117 potential BDs. BDs were first discovered roughly 20 years ago. Because BDs do not have the necessary mass to sustain nuclear fusion, they are intrinsically dim, so their temperatures are therefore relatively low. This makes them hard to spot. The WISE telescope was designed to observe cold objects that emit light at long wavelengths.