Share
Brown Dwarf
Lithium dwarf
Image from Steve Bowers
L type (lithium) brown dwarf

A massive object midway between gas giant and star; a starlike object too small to achieve nuclear reactions in its centre. Brown dwarfs usually form in the same way as stars do, but do not become large enough for hydrogen fusion to occur. Normal hydrogen thermonuclear fusion reactions will not ignite in the core of any stellar object smaller than about 0.08 Sol masses, although deuterium fusion will occur for a few million years or so in the larger brown dwarfs.

The dividing line between brown dwarfs and gas giant planets is set at 13 times the mass of Jupiter. Smaller brown dwarfs do not even have enough mass to produce deuterium fusion, but are still hot because of gravitational contraction, which converts gravitational energy to thermal energy. As they age, all brown dwarfs contract and cool, and will eventually become cool, dense objects similar in size and appearance to a large Jovian class world.

Because they are so dense, brown dwarfs have very high surface gravities, often in the region of 100 gees. For this reason they are not good sources of material for extraction. However many brown dwarfs have an accretion disc or a system of worldlets in orbit around them, and this material is readily available for use. The dwarfs themselves can be used as sources of power, in the form of heat or magnetic energy. Some dwarfs also exhibit flares, which can be hazardous, but also can be exploited given the right technology.

While some rotate around their primary like an ordinary planet, many more brown dwarfs exist in the depths of interstellar space, as these small objects are often ejected from the stellar nursery by gravitational interactions with larger stars.

Methane  Brown Dwarf
Image from Steve Bowers
T type (methane) brown dwarf
Brown dwarfs are classified spectrally into L type, T type and Y type dwarfs.
L Type dwarfs (Lithium Dwarfs) are more massive, and are enriched in lithium as the process which removes that element from normal stars does not occur. L type dwarfs are dark red in colour.
T Type dwarfs (Methane Dwarfs) contain methane, as they are cool enough for that compound to persist. They are dimmer than L type dwarfs and are often a purplish magenta colour.
Y Type dwarfs (Ultra-cool brown dwarfs)are the smallest and coolest of the brown dwarfs, at a temperature of less than 500 Kelvin. These objects are not luminous in the visible spectrum and are visually very dark. They are detectable in the infra-red spectrum, but the smallest and coolest of these objects are very similar to solitary gas giants.

Y Class brown dwarf
Image from Steve Bowers
Ultracool Y- Class Brown Dwarf, visually very similar to a Stevensonian class gas giant
 
Related Articles
 
Appears in Topics
 
Development Notes
Text by M. Alan Kazlev, amended by Steve Bowers

Initially published on 08 October 2001.

 
 
>