Using data from the NOIRLab Source Catalog (NSC) DR2, citizen scientist Frank Kiwy has discovered 34 new M-, L-, or T-type dwarfs comoving with low-mass stars or white dwarfs.
Brown dwarfs are relatively cool, dim objects that have a size between that of a gas giant planet, such as Jupiter or Saturn, and that of a Sun-like star.
Sometimes called failed stars, these objects are too small to sustain hydrogen fusion reactions at their cores, yet they have star-like attributes.
Typically, they have masses between 11 and 80 times that of Jupiter, and are classified spectrally into M-, L-, T- and Y-type dwarfs.
Despite their name, they are of different colors. Many brown dwarfs would likely appear magenta or orange-red to the human eye.
Their low mass, low temperature, and lack of internal nuclear reactions make them extremely faint and difficult to detect.
To help find new brown dwarfs in the solar neighborhood, astronomers from the Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 citizen science project have previously turned to a worldwide network of more than 100,000 citizen scientists who scrutinized telescope images to identify the subtle motion of brown dwarfs against background stars.
Despite the abilities of machine learning and supercomputers, the human eye is still a unique resource when it comes to scouring telescope images for moving objects.
“The Backyard Worlds project has fostered a diverse community of talented volunteers,” said NOIRLab astronomer Dr. Aaron Meisner, co-founder of Backyard Worlds.
“150,000 volunteers across the globe have participated in Backyard Worlds, among which a few hundred ‘super users’ perform ambitious self-directed research projects.”
One of these users, Frank Kiwy, embarked on a research project involving the NOIRLab Source Catalog DR2, a catalog of nearly 4 billion unique celestial objects that contains public image data from the NOIRLab Astro Data Archive.
By searching the data for objects with the color of brown dwarfs, Kiwy was able to find more than 2,500 potential ultracool dwarfs lurking in the archive.
These were then scrutinized for hints of comoving companions, yielding a total of 34 systems comprising a white dwarf or low-mass star with an ultracool companion.
Kiwy then led a team of professional astronomers in publishing these discoveries in a scientific paper.
“I love the Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 project,” Kiwy said.
“Once you master the regular workflow you can dive much deeper into the subject.”
“If you’re a person who is curious and not afraid to learn something new, this might be the right thing for you.”
The team’s paper was published in the Astronomical Journal.
Frank Kiwy et al. 2022. Discovery of 34 Low-mass Comoving Systems Using NOIRLab Source Catalog DR2. AJ 164, 3; doi: 10.3847/1538-3881/ac68e7
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