Youngest Brown Dwarf Yet in a Multiple Stellar System
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Youngest Brown Dwarf Yet in a Multiple Stellar System

April 22, 2005
... and the Sharpest Optical Image (0.18 arcsec) from the VLT so far...!

Astronomers are eager to better understand the formation of stars and planets - with an eye on the complex processes that lead to the emergence of our own solar system some 4600 million years ago.

Brown Dwarfs (BDs) play a special role in this context. Within the cosmic zoo, they represent a class of "intermediate" objects. While they are smaller than normal stars, they shine by their own energy for a limited time, in contrast to planets.

Recent observations with the ESO Very Large Telescope (VLT) of a "young" Brown Dwarf in a multiple stellar system are taking on a particular importance in this connection. An evaluation of the new data by an international team of astronomers [1] shows that it is by far the youngest of only four such objects found in a stellar system so far. The results are now providing new insights into the stellar formation process.

This small object is known as TWA-5 B and with a mass of only 15 - 40 times that of Jupiter, it is near the borderline between planets and Brown Dwarfs, cf. the explanatory Appendix to this Press Release. However, visible and infrared VLT spectra unambiguously classify it in the latter category. Accurate positional measurements with the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) and the VLT hint that it is orbiting the central, much heavier and brighter star in this system, TWA-5 A (itself a close double star of which each component presumably has a mass of 0.75 solar masses), with a period that may be as long as 900 years.

And, by the way, an (I-band) image of the TWA-5 system is the sharpest delivered by the VLT so far, with an image size of only 0.18 arcsec [2]!

This image was taken with the FORS-2 multi-mode instrument at the 8.2-m VLT/KUEYEN telescope on 21 February 2000. The integration time was 1 second through an I-band filter (wavelength 900 nm) with the high-resolution collimator (0.1 arcsec per pixel). The image quality is 0.18 arcsec FWHM (full-width-half maximum). The lines emerging from the bright image are caused by optical reflection in the telescope. The angular distance is 2 arcsec, cf. the indicated scale.

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