NASA’s Webb Telescope Discovers Record-Breaking Miniature Brown Dwarf

Brown Dwarf Star Concept Art

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has discovered a record-breaking small brown dwarf, only three to four times the mass of Jupiter. This finding challenges current understanding of stellar formation and has implications for the study of exoplanets and the classification of such celestial bodies. (Artist’s concept.) Credit:

Discovery helps answer question: How small can you go when forming stars?

Brown dwarfs are sometimes called failed stars, since they form like stars through gravitational collapse, but never gain enough mass to ignite nuclear fusion. The smallest brown dwarfs can overlap in mass with giant planets. In a quest to find the smallest brown dwarf, astronomers using the James Webb Space Telescope have found the new record-holder: an object weighing just three to four times the mass of Jupiter.

IC 348 (Webb NIRCam Image)

This image from the NIRCam (Near-Infrared Camera) instrument on NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope shows the central portion of the star cluster IC 348. The wispy curtains filling the image are interstellar material reflecting the light from the cluster’s stars – what is known as a reflection nebula. The material also includes carbon-containing molecules known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs. Winds from the most massive stars in the cluster may help sculpt the large loop seen on the right side of the field of view. Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Kevin Luhman (PSU), Catarina Alves de Oliveira (ESA)

Webb Space Telescope Identifies Tiniest Free-Floating Brown Dwarf

Brown dwarfs are objects that straddle the dividing line between stars and planets. They form like stars, growing dense enough to collapse under their own gravity, but they never become dense and hot enough to begin fusing hydrogen and turn into a star. At the low end of the scale, some brown dwarfs are comparable with giant planets, weighing just a few times the mass of Jupiter.

What Are the Smallest Stars?

Astronomers are trying to determine the smallest object that can form in a star-like manner. A team using NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has identified the new record-holder: a tiny, free-floating brown dwarf with only three to four times the mass of Jupiter.

“One basic question you’ll find in every astronomy textbook is, what are the smallest stars? That’s what we’re trying to answer,” explained lead author Kevin Luhman of The Pennsylvania State University.

Brown Dwarfs in IC 348 (Webb NIRCam Image)

This image from the NIRCam (Near-Infrared Camera) instrument on NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope shows the central portion of the star cluster IC 348. Astronomers combed the cluster in search of tiny, free-floating brown dwarfs: objects too small to be stars but larger than most planets. They found three brown dwarfs that are less than eight times the mass of Jupiter, which are circled in the main image and shown in the detailed pullouts at right. The smallest weighs just three to four times Jupiter, challenging theories for star formation.
The wispy curtains filling the image are interstellar material reflecting the light from the cluster’s stars – what is known as a reflection nebula. The material also includes carbon-containing molecules known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs. The bright star closest to the center of the frame is actually a pair of type B stars in a binary system, which are the most massive stars in the cluster. Winds from these stars may help sculpt the large loop seen on the right side of the field of view.
Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Kevin Luhman (PSU), Catarina Alves de Oliveira (ESA)

Search Strategy

To locate this newfound brown dwarf, Luhman and his colleague, Catarina Alves de Oliveira, chose to study the star cluster IC 348, located about 1,000 light-years away in the Perseus star-forming region. This cluster is young, only about 5 million years old. As a result, any brown dwarfs would still be relatively bright in infrared light, glowing from the heat of their formation.

The team first imaged the center of the cluster using Webb’s NIRCam (Near-Infrared Camera) to identify brown dwarf candidates from their brightness and colors. They followed up on the most promising targets using Webb’s NIRSpec (Near-Infrared Spectrograph) microshutter array.

Webb’s infrared sensitivity was crucial, allowing the team to detect fainter objects than ground-based telescopes. In addition, Webb’s sharp vision enabled them to determine which red objects were pinpoint brown dwarfs and which were blobby background galaxies.

This winnowing process led to three intriguing targets weighing three to eight Jupiter masses, with surface temperatures ranging from 1,500 to 2,800 degrees Fahrenheit (830 to 1,500 degrees Celsius). The smallest of these weighs just three to four times Jupiter, according to computer models.

IC 348 (Webb NIRCam Compass Image)

This image of star cluster IC 348, captured by Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam), shows compass arrows, scale bar, and color key for reference.
The north and east compass arrows show the orientation of the image on the sky. Note that the relationship between north and east on the sky (as seen from below) is flipped relative to direction arrows on a map of the ground (as seen from above).
The scale bar is labeled in light-years, which is the distance that light travels in one Earth-year. (It takes 0.1 years for light to travel a distance equal to the length of the scale bar.) One light-year is equal to about 5.88 trillion miles or 9.46 trillion kilometers. The field of view shown in this image is approximately 0.5 light-years across and 0.8 light-years high.
This image shows invisible near-infrared wavelengths of light that have been translated into visible-light colors. The color key shows which NIRCam filters were used when collecting the light. The color of each filter name is the visible light color used to represent the infrared light that passes through that filter.
Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Kevin Luhman (PSU), Catarina Alves de Oliveira (ESA)

Explaining how such a small brown dwarf could form is theoretically challenging. A heavy and dense cloud of gas has plenty of gravity to collapse and form a star. However, because of its weaker gravity, it should be more difficult for a small cloud to collapse to form a brown dwarf, and that is especially true for brown dwarfs with the masses of giant planets.

“It’s pretty easy for current models to make giant planets in a disk around a star,” said Catarina Alves de Oliveira of ESA (European Space Agency), principal investigator on the observing program. “But in this cluster, it would be unlikely this object formed in a disk, instead forming like a star, and three Jupiter masses is 300 times smaller than our Sun. So we have to ask, how does the star formation process operate at such very, very small masses?”

A Mystery Molecule

In addition to giving clues about the star-formation process, tiny brown dwarfs also can help astronomers better understand exoplanets. The least massive brown dwarfs overlap with the largest exoplanets; therefore, they would be expected to have some similar properties. However, a free-floating brown dwarf is easier to study than a giant exoplanet since the latter is hidden within the glare of its host star. 

Two of the brown dwarfs identified in this survey show the spectral signature of an unidentified hydrocarbon, or molecule containing both hydrogen and carbon atoms. The same infrared signature was detected by NASA’s Cassini mission in the atmospheres of Saturn and its moon Titan. It has also been seen in the interstellar medium, or gas between stars.

“This is the first time we’ve detected this molecule in the atmosphere of an object outside our solar system,” explained Alves de Oliveira. “Models for brown dwarf atmospheres don’t predict its existence. We’re looking at objects with younger ages and lower masses than we ever have before, and we’re seeing something new and unexpected.”

Brown Dwarf or Rogue Planet?

Since the objects are well within the mass range of giant planets, it raises the question of whether they are actually brown dwarfs, or if they’re really rogue planets that were ejected from planetary systems. While the team can’t rule out the latter, they argue that they are far more likely to be a brown dwarf than an ejected planet.

An ejected giant planet is unlikely for two reasons. First, such planets are uncommon in general compared to planets with smaller masses. Second, most stars are low-mass stars, and giant planets are especially rare among those stars. As a result, it’s unlikely that most of the stars in IC 348 (which are low-mass stars) are capable of producing such massive planets. In addition, since the cluster is only 5 million years old, there probably hasn’t been enough time for giant planets to form and then be ejected from their systems.

The discovery of more such objects will help clarify their status. Theories suggest that rogue planets are more likely to be found in the outskirts of a star cluster, so expanding the search area may identify them if they exist within IC 348.

Future work may also include longer surveys that can detect fainter, smaller objects. The short survey conducted by the team was expected to detect objects as small as twice the mass of Jupiter. Longer surveys could easily reach one Jupiter mass.

These observations were taken as part of Guaranteed Time Observation program 1229. The results were published in the Astronomical Journal.

Reference: “A JWST Survey for Planetary Mass Brown Dwarfs in IC 348* ” by K. L. Luhman, C. Alves de Oliveira, I. Baraffe, G. Chabrier, T. R. Geballe, R. J. Parker, Y. J. Pendleton and P. Tremblin, 13 December 2023, The Astronomical Journal.
DOI: 10.3847/1538-3881/ad00b7

The James Webb Space Telescope is the world’s premier space science observatory. Webb is solving mysteries in our solar system, looking beyond to distant worlds around other stars, and probing the mysterious structures and origins of our universe and our place in it. Webb is an international program led by NASA with its partners, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Canadian Space Agency.

4 Comments on "NASA’s Webb Telescope Discovers Record-Breaking Miniature Brown Dwarf"

  1. Brown Dwarfs are extremely hard to observe and confirm compared to stars. Some estimates indicate that their numbers might be as much or greater than the number of stars. Now imagine how many Jupiter, and sub-Brown Dwarf bodies must occupy the vast empty space between the stars. It’s unlikely we would ever see them because they are veiled in darkness, and are so distant. Imagine all of the gaseous, icy, and rocky bodies orbiting these lonely non-stars.

    When you look at images of galaxies, you see what has been described as dust clouds that obscure the light coming from the stars in these galaxies. What if these “dust clouds” are in reality, vast collections of Brown Dwarfs, and Jupiter sized systems, and the planets that orbit these bodies.

    • dr mehrdad kesiri | December 17, 2023 at 12:44 am | Reply

      Louis says that brown planets are a very rare and scarce source.The reason for the color of Jupiter and dwarfs is due to the collision with very small planets and stars, and Saturn, the stars and planets must be due to the very strong gravity and attraction of very small stars.They are deadly to themselves, that’s why Jupiter’s hydrogen stars are burning, and they have been on Jupiter’s surface for hundreds of millions of years, flowing from rivers, and the brown smoke of this planet has been against a planet that is blessed with a star.The collision surface of Saturn also collided with very small stars and two large arms of the galaxy, but this collision was taken several hundred million years ago, but in these collisions, the moons around Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune belonged to tens ofmillions of years ago.Originally, they were planets that came close to Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune along with those stars and became the moons of these four big gas planets.It is so accurate that it has no limit.I understood that the Lord was raised by them and they should know that the meaning of God is different from the Lord, they call man, but It is worth its structure.It works like artificial intelligence.The Lord was cultivated by humans hundreds of millions of years ago through the science of chemistry and physics.Those humans have a few hundred thousand years of history and civilization.It is not a joke.A few hundred thousand years of history.We have more than two thousand years of history.Is.Let’s have a history.Will we also achieve technology that simulates human souls in the laboratory using chemistry and physics?We will be able to cultivate soul molecules in tens of thousands of years.Humans are a hundred million years old.We can also do it with the science of chemistry, genetics, etc., and we should understand from the American continent that a bird is flying..And humans were formed.Go look at the world map carefully.There is an old man on the continent of South America that the bird wants to take him to space with his foot that the bird’s foot is connected to that old man and the foot of the bird of our country Panama is Panama in Farsi.We say that there is a map that takes us to the view of that man’s face, that is, follow the bird’s feet, you will reach the name of that old Indian man, whose face is the Indian man of Brazil, but the bird’s leftwing is in pieces near the north, but its right wing is intact in Alaska..It remains strange that all the flights to space are made from America, Dr. Mehrdad continues.This story will be explained later in the next comments.For now, may God protect you and help you, so that God will help you from Iran, Tehran time.Capital of Iran

      help 0098933217646 mehrdad kesiri resool allah gods iranzamin sent s m s in mehrdad thank you

    • dr mehrdad kesiri | January 11, 2024 at 3:19 am | Reply

      A boy was born in Wahidiya, Vahidiya, Tehran, at 4:30 in the morning on 10 June 1343, his name is Mohammad Mehr, Mohammad Mehr is the owner of time with dozens of signs or more than dozens of signs, the first signof birth time is 4:30.In the year 43, Mohammad Mehr was born in 43. The second sign is the date of birth of Mohammad Mehr’s father, which is 17, plus 43, it becomes 60, which belongs to time.There are 72 plus 42 years when the lid is closed, the sum of 72 and forty-three is 114, the Quran has 114 chapters, and 30 parts and 60 parties are 10 multiplied by 3, 30 is multiplied by 3, 90 is multipliedby 40, and 3,600 is one hour, when the date of birth of the owner If we multiply the time from day, month, year, decade, century to millennium, the speed of the earth, the sun, and the light will be inone second and one hour.No one in the world has such a date of birth.In the academic years of 50 and 51, he was in the first grade of primary school, in 51 and 52 he was in the second grade of primary school, in 56 he was in 5/6 grade, in 57 he was in 7th gradein first middle school, and in 60 he was in Khaleghi School in the first grade.Surah that is the Lord, and Muhammad Mehr Sahib wrote Surah the Lord in 7 minutes, seven verses of the Lord, the words were arranged by the Lords of the earth, and in verse 5, there are 60 words of creator, and in 1360, the master of the school was called Khalegi.We realized this issue after reviewing Surah Al-Labaran, when we number the words from the beginning of Surah Al-Labaran, which is the first word of truth, the word creator is 60. In 1360, Mohammad Mehr lived at the age of 17on the 17th street that intersects the 172nd street.Until the year 1993, he lived in Square 93, No. 93, and at the age of 54, he lived in Square 54, and at the age of 55, he bought a house in Square 55. The signs are related to the factthat the lords of the earth wanted to make Muhammad Mehr the master of time by bringing forth the treatise written by Sahib Zaman, which is the order of religion and religion of Iranians.There were 14 signs that Muhammad Mehr was the master of time, but there are other signs as well.which is related to Muhammad Mehr’s being elected, one of these signs is verse 143, which is in Surah Al-Baqarah, and the number 143 in the eight surahs that were revealed to Muhammad Mehr is symbolically related to the surahs and to the date ofbirth of the master of time, and God He knew that in the criminal and dictatorial regime of the Islamic Republic, if there is a prophet who has a book from God and the lords of the earth, those who are in the dress of religion willnot accept the invitation of that prophet, even though they know that the signs are the same as the signs of the prophet they were waiting for, except for this, Muhammad Mehr’s signs There is another one that is related to the matching of the words ofSurah 101, which was revealed to Muhammad Mehr from God and the Lords of the earth, that verse 101 in Surah Baqarah is exactly shown with Surah of the Prophets, which was the last Surah that was revealed to Muhammad Mehr, who is the owner oftime and in the year 89 and 90 Surahs of the Prophets were revealed to Muhammad Mehr, and the entire time that the Prophet’s Surahs took place in two stages, which was about 30 minutes, but Muhammad Mehr did not adjust the words, the words wereadjusted by the Lords of the Earth because the Lords of the Earth whispered for several days Those verses in the ear of the owner of time as inspiration and revelation with the focus of this work is possible, this work is possible with the will of God andthe lords of the earth. 00989332197646

    • dr mehrdad kesiri | January 21, 2024 at 12:41 am | Reply

      With regards and courtesy, I must say that half of the comments that I send on this up-to-date scientific and technical site are unfortunately messed up.And those who read my comment will not understand what I typed, my humble servant.I think that this problem arises when translating in Google, or sabotage by the forbidden and criminal regime and the dictator of the Islamic Republic is possible because of strong filtering, etc. The standard will be done, but this time I am typing a text fromFarsi to Latin for you, but I don’t need the internet while typing, and the text is currently Farsi, so I turn off Wi-Fi so that the agents of the mullahs’ regime can’t destroy my text later.When the text is finished and complete, I will translate it on Google, maybe they will not be able to destroy the text that was prepared in a few moments by Wifa during the translation.collided with a planet and a cloud of gas and dust that was formed and contains hydrogen gas and carbon and other molecular elements and sulfur that is in this cloud is related to the disintegrated planet and also a part of the star’s hydrogen gas in this cloud whenit collided with the star And the explosion of the planet is spread in the nebula cloud, and the brown color is due to the material and soil of the planets, which was spread around the star ci 348 during the explosion and disintegration of the planet.I say that I should not have posted the comment on January 11, 2024 on this page.That comment is about me being elected and the owner of my time.I mean that I am elected by myself, but I should not have discussed religious issues on this page.

Leave a comment

Email address is optional. If provided, your email will not be published or shared.