brown dwarf

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Related to brown dwarves: Molecular clouds, Protoplanetary disks

brown dwarf,

in astronomy, celestial body that is larger than a planet but does not have sufficient mass to convert hydrogen into helium via nuclear fusion as starsstar,
hot incandescent sphere of gas, held together by its own gravitation, and emitting light and other forms of electromagnetic radiation whose ultimate source is nuclear energy.
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 do. Also called "failed stars," brown dwarfs form in the same way as true stars (by the contraction of a swirling cloud of interstellar matterinterstellar matter,
matter in a galaxy between the stars, known also as the interstellar medium. Distribution of Interstellar Matter

Compared to the size of an entire galaxy, stars are virtually points, so that the region occupied by the interstellar matter
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). True stars have enough mass (greater than 0.084 times that of the sun) to compress their core until the increasing temperature and pressure ignite the hydrogen fusion reaction, but brown dwarfs have only a relatively short period of deuterium (heavy hydrogen) burning before they cool and fade. Their coolness gives brown dwarfs two distinguishing characteristics: One is that most of the radiation they emit is in the infrared part of the spectrum; the other is that brown dwarfs can be distinguished by traces of lithium in their spectrum because, unlike true stars, brown dwarfs never get hot enough to burn the lithium that was in the interstellar cloud as it condensed.

Although they should exist in large numbers, brown dwarfs are difficult to find using conventional astronomical techniques because they are dim compared with true stars. A number of brown dwarfs have been identified, the first in the PleiadesPleiades
, in astronomy, famous open star cluster in the constellation Taurus; cataloged as M45. The cluster consists of some 500 stars, has a diameter of 35 light-years, and is 400 light-years distant from the earth.
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 star cluster in 1995. The first X-ray-emitting brown dwarf was detected in Chamaeleon dark cloud number I in 1998. A year later, several so-called methane dwarfs were discovered; these are thought to be older brown dwarfs that have cooled sufficiently over billions of years so that large amounts of methane could form in their atmospheres. The closest brown dwarf to Earth, Epsilon Indi B, less than 12 light-years from the Sun, was discovered in 2003.

Brown dwarfs belong to the "T dwarf" category of objects straddling the domain between stars and giant planets. Because brown dwarfs are typically 10–80 times the mass of Jupiter, some of the large extrasolar bodies discovered orbiting stars may be brown dwarfs rather than giant Jupiterlike planets. Observations of 100 young brown dwarfs in the Orion Nebula in 2001 strongly supported the theory that they originate as failed stars; many of the brown dwarfs were surrounded by disks of dust and gas that conceivably could condense and conglomerate to create planets orbiting them. Brown dwarfs are believed to play an important role in the process of stellar evolutionstellar evolution,
life history of a star, beginning with its condensation out of the interstellar gas (see interstellar matter) and ending, sometimes catastrophically, when the star has exhausted its nuclear fuel or can no longer adjust itself to a stable configuration.
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. They may be an important component of the dark matterdark matter,
material that is believed to make up nearly 27% of the mass of the universe but is not readily visible because it neither emits nor reflects electromagnetic radiation, such as light or radio signals.
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 that along with dark energydark energy,
repulsive force that opposes the self-attraction of matter (see gravitation) and causes the expansion of the universe to accelerate. The search for dark energy was triggered by the discovery (1998) in images from the Hubble Space Telescope of a distant supernova
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 accounts for some 95% of the mass of the universe.

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brown dwarf

A theoretical ‘star’ formed by the contraction of a lump of gas with a mass too small for nuclear reactions to begin in the core. This limit on stellar mass is uncertain but is thought to be about 0.08 solar masses. An object below this limit will shine for only 100 million years as a result of gravitational contraction on the Hayashi track, and then cool off. Its interior consists of degenerate matter. Some of the least luminous red dwarf stars may actually be brown dwarfs. The first brown dwarf, named Gliese 229B, was unambiguously identified in 1995 with the Palomor 60-inch telescope. It orbits the red-dwarf star Gliese 229A. The presence of methane lines in its spectrum is believed to be a unique signature of a brown dwarf, which can be used to distinguish it from a very low-mass star. Since 1995 numerous other brown-dwarf candidates have been found.
Collins Dictionary of Astronomy © Market House Books Ltd, 2006

brown dwarf

[¦braün ¦dwȯrf]
A starlike body whose mass is too small (less than about 8% that of the sun) to sustain nuclear reactions in its core. Also known as black dwarf; failed star; infrared dwarf; lilliputian star; substellar object; super-Jupiter.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.