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Beyond Earthly Skies

Habitable Planets around Brown Dwarfs

24 Sep 2013, 10:00 UTC
Habitable Planets around Brown Dwarfs
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Brown dwarfs are objects whose masses fall below the limit required for stable hydrogen fusion to occur in their cores. A brown dwarf cools continuously from the gradual release of gravitational potential energy. The timescale over which a brown dwarf cools depends on its mass, with more massive brown dwarfs taking longer to cool. There is good evidence to suggest that terrestrial-mass planets can form around brown dwarfs. One compelling discovery is the object Kepler-42, a very low mass star with a trio of planets measuring 0.7, 0.8 and 0.6 Earth-radii respectively. These planets orbit Kepler-42 with periods no longer than 2 Earth days. The Kepler-42 system very much resembles a scaled up version of Jupiter and its 4 large moons - Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. Since brown dwarfs cover the mass domain between Jupiter-like planets and the lowest mass stars, it is reasonable to expect that the process of forming planets around brown dwarfs is somewhat robust.Figure 1: This artist’s concept compares the Kepler-42 (KOI-961) planetary system to Jupiter and the largest four of its many moons. The planet and moon orbits are drawn to the same scale. The relative sizes of the stars, planets and moons have ...

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