Saturday, December 26, 2009
Here's a quick update from the WISE telescope - it's just about ready to pop off its lens cap (will happen on 29 December), after which it will begin a series of tests before beginning its primary mission. Everything else is functioning normally, so with luck it may only be a few months from now (perhaps as soon as March?) when we may begin finding the first brown dwarf stars in our vicinity, if they exist. Theoretically they should because less massive objects are always more common than more massive ones, and brown dwarfs are much less massive than red dwarfs, and red dwarfs are the most common stars in the universe. A brown dwarf isn't technically a star, but it's close - they are called sub-stellar objects as they don't have nuclear fusion in their cores, but they can still be pretty massive with masses somewhere around 20 to 50, and maybe up to 75 or 80 times the mass of Jupiter (though their size is almost always the same as Jupiter). It's anyone's guess what sort of planets or moons a lone brown dwarf might have.
One other related article from ten days back might be of interest - the Hubble Space Telescope made an interesting discovery recently of a very small asteroid. What makes the discovery interesting is that it wasn't just a nearby asteroid directly imaged by the telescope but rather one located way out in the Kuiper Belt, and it was detected in the same way that we detect a lot of extrasolar planets now, by noticing the telltale drop in light as an object passes in front of a star.