UNITED STATES: The boundary between the largest planets and the smallest stars is formed by brown dwarfs, also referred to as failed stars. In a sense, these objects bridge the gap between these two classes. Brown dwarfs (15–75 times the mass of Jupiter) end up looking like hot, burning charcoal before slowly cooling down because they don’t collect enough mass to trigger nuclear processes.
Recently, through the Citizen Science Project, numerous brown dwarfs were discovered. Citizen Science Project is a US government initiative that trains the public to participate in scientific discovery after some training via various sites. Around 100,000+ citizen scientists are actively involved in discovering new celestial objects and advancing the study of astronomy.
Frank Kiwy, a seasoned citizen scientist and professional software developer, oversaw this research.
To determine what kinds of early circumstances result in a specific mass accumulation that results in the birth of a planet or star, it is imperative to comprehend them.
Finding them is the toughest challenge, particularly in the later stages when they cool off enough to be seen via any telescope on Earth. To begin with, we need infrared telescopes, but even then, the dwarfs’ small size and their distance from us make it challenging to find them.
The Astro Data Lab science platform at NOIRLab, run by the National Science Foundation, was used to fulfil this task for the project.
They looked through the 4 billion space objects in the NOIRLAB collection and discovered 34 brown dwarfs in binary systems. Compared to the background stars in photographs, these citizen scientists were hunting for the tiny motion of brown dwarfs.
The discovered brown dwarfs are close to our own Sun, making them the nearest to us, and despite their small size, our telescopes were able to locate them.
The human eye is still the best, and nothing can replace it, even though modern machine learning and artificial intelligence can complete this task in a matter of hours. About 2500 of these objects were discovered by Kiwy, the principal researcher, but only 34 of them had a partner, such as a white dwarf or a low-mass star.
This effort boosts the number of binary system brown dwarfs by a factor of 100; we already knew about roughly 30 such systems that were discovered over a long period of time. Thanks to all the volunteers, this one citizen science initiative contributed approximately the same amount.
Professional astronomers can use this discovery and many others made through citizen science initiatives to carry out a more thorough scientific study.