I track brown dwarfs closely because they have so much to teach us about the boundary between planet and star. I’m also intrigued by what might be found on a planet orbiting one of these objects, though life seems unlikely. Brown dwarfs begin losing their thermal energy after formation and continue cooling the rest of their lives, a period I’ve seen estimated at only about 10 million years. We know nothing about how long abiogenesis takes — not to mention how common it is — but the outlook for brown dwarf planets and astrobiology seems bleak.
It’s intriguing, though, that we’ve identified a number of brown dwarfs with planetary systems, including 2M1207b, MOA-2007-BLG-192Lb, and 2MASS J044144b, and in the latest news from the NEOWISE mission, we have two brown dwarfs that stand out for other reasons. What used to be the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer would become a tool for the detection of near-Earth objects, but data from the earlier WISE incarnation is still turning up red and brown dwarfs. Along the way, the Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 project, armed with the talents of 150,000 citizen scientists, has more than proven its worth, but more on that in a moment.