Astronomers accidentally find system of 'failed stars' eclipsing one another

A group of astronomers accidentally stumbled upon two brown dwarfs eclipsing one another while looking for habitable planets

Astronomers working on a project that involved looking for habitable planets made an accidental discovery. During their observations, they came across a rare system of brown dwarfs that were orbiting one another.

Brown dwarfs are massive cosmic objects that are often referred to as "failed stars" due to their size. Although they look like planets, they are too big to be considered as one. However, they can't be categorized as stars because they're too small.

Hunting For Habitable Planets

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The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) captured this unprecedented image of two circumstellar disks, in which baby stars are growing, feeding with material from their surrounding birth disk. The complex network of dust structures distributed in spiral shapes remind of the loops of a pretzel. These observations shed new light on the earliest phases of the lives of stars and help astronomers determine the conditions in which binary stars are born. ALMA ESO/NAOJ/NRAO, Alves et al.

Although brown dwarfs are not uncommon in space, spotting a pair operating within the same system is quite rare. Recently, an international team of astronomers accidentally came across a binary dwarf star system while working on a project known as the Search for habitable Planets EClipsing ULtra-cOOl Stars (SPECULOOS). They presented their findings in a study published in the journal Nature.

As its name suggests, SPECULOOS involved the search for possible habitable planets. In order to find these kinds of worlds, the astronomers looked for stars and brown dwarfs being orbited by planets. One of the cosmic objects they focused on during their observations was the brown dwarf known as 2M1510.

An Accidental Discovery


While the astronomers were watching 2M1510, they noticed that it had a strange appearance. In addition, its brightness dimmed for about 90 minutes. Follow-up observations revealed that 2M1510 was actually being orbited by another brown dwarf. They explained that the decrease in 2M1510's brightness was caused by the other brown dwarf eclipsing it.

"We rapidly realized that we were probably looking at two eclipsing brown dwarfs, one passing in front of the other, a configuration which is much rarer than planetary systems," Artem Burdanov, the co-author of a new study conducted on the binary brown dwarf system said in a statement.

A Cosmic Missing Link

According to the astronomers, studying brown dwarfs can provide important information regarding the formation of both stars and planets. Due to their unique characteristics, brown dwarfs are like the missing link between small stars known as red dwarfs and gas giant planets such as Jupiter.

"Collecting a combination of mass, radius, and age is really rare for a star, let alone for a brown dwarf," the study's co-author Amaury Triaud said in a statement. "Usually one or more of these measurements is missing."

Related topics : Space Exoplanet