An Odd Couple

The cool thing about science is that it isn’t the normal everyday things that you learn new things from. It’s the things that seem a little unusual. Unusual like a tiny star which goes by the name of 2M044144, a mere 450 light years away in the Taurus molecular cloud. Well… I say “star”. Really, 2M044144 is barely a star at all. It’s a brown dwarf. A stellar runt, too small to burn hydrogen. The interesting thing is that this tiny star has a planet in tow. Not just any planet, but a giant planet!

In fact, with an estimated mass of between 5 and 10 jupiter masses, this is a sizeable planet. Much larger and it would be capable of being a brown dwarf itself. It’s also estimated as being only around 1 million years old, which is about the same age estimated for the star itself. In short, there was no way that this planet (which is in a close orbit at only around 24 AU away) could have formed the way a “regular” planet does. It simply hasn’t had the time.

Remarkably, that means that this planet must have condensed directly from the same cloud of gas and dust that the star did. Had it accumulated more mass, the whole system would have been a binary star. Astronomers found fairly recently that stars can form the way planets do. Apparently, planets can form the way stars do too!

Which makes you wonder how many interstellar planets might be drifting around in interstellar space, having formed directly. Born the way stars are, but forever dark and silent. Perhaps there may be many more planets in our galaxy than we realise.

The paper about the 2M044144 system is available from the Astrophysical Journal.

Source: Cosmic Power
Images: NASA / ESA / K. Todorov and K. Luman (Penn State University)

About Invader Xan

Molecular astrophysicist, usually found writing frenziedly, staring at the sky, or drinking mojitos.
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5 Responses to An Odd Couple

  1. That is really cool!
    It raises the question – how would we know if a planet had formed the usual way or that way in an older system? For example, could we be certain that, say, Jupiter had not formed directly from the original nebula? If so, how?

  2. Re: Brown dwarf
    Yeah, and if they did exist, you couldn’t see them through a telescope! In fact, it’d be really hard to detect them at all, except indirectly through their gravity.

  3. sandalfon says:

    I don’t know what I’d ever do without your posts, I love them that much. You are such an incredible online friend.

  4. invaderxan says:

    Re: Brown dwarf
    This comment looks a lot like spam, but I’m going to leave it. For future reference, if your website’s genuinely worth promoting, you’d do better to just ask me.
    FYI, black dwarfs don’t exist. Yet. A black dwarf is what happens when a white dwarf cools to the point where it stops emitting visible light, and the Universe isn’t old enough for that to have happened yet!

  5. Anonymous says:

    Brown dwarf
    I had heard of white dwarf and I think black dwarf (even my kids saw these with their childrens telescope) but not a brown dwarft. Good education here. thanks!

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