We’re up to twelve brown dwarf candidates now, plus one real verified brown dwarf!

Hey everyone!  It’s proposal season here at NASA.  Every spring, NASA offers astronomers opportunities to apply for grant funding to do their research, and we’ve been busy taking advantage of that, writing proposals.

In the meantime, you’ve been hard at work, discovering stuff.  We’re up to twelve brown dwarf candidates now plus one real verified brown dwarf.  Holy smoke!  We can estimate their spectral types based on their relative flux in the WISE 1 and WISE 2 bands (3.5 and 4.6 microns), and it looks like we have 7 new candidate L dwarfs and five new candidate T dwarfs. We’re going to try to get spectra for as many of these as we can.

In the meantime, did I mention we’ve been writing proposals? Well in a proposal, you try to make predictions about what you’re going to be able to learn or discover. You also try to show how your work compares to other work in the field. So we started by taking all thirteen objects and putting them on a plot, showing their proper motions and magnitudes in the WISE 2  (W2) band. Those are the red stars on the plot below, which was made by science team member Jonathan Gagne.


Then, as you can see, we plotted lots of other interesting stuff on here.   For starters, we did our best to add all the brown dwarfs that were previously known.  The little blue dots show every other brown dwarf in this database, which is every brown dwarf we could find in the literature.  You can see right away that our discoveries, the red stars, fall towards the bottom of the cloud of blue dots made by the other discoveries.  So our discoveries are fainter than average.

Next, we plotted some lines indicating the detection limits of some other recent surveys, by Adam Schneider et al and by Davy Kirkpatrick et al. (That’s Adam Schneider from our science team.) Those are the two biggest brown dwarfs searches made using WISE before we began ours. The survey done by Schneider et al. only detected brown dwarfs that fall above the orange dashed line. The survey done by Kirkpatrick et al only detected brown dwarfs that fall above the black dash-dot line.  Those lines slant upward to the right because the WISE images they used were not divided into as fine time slices as ours, so some faster moving objects got blurred out.

Finally, we added some green lines showing what we think are the limits of Backyard Worlds: Planet 9.  Now this part is harder since our survey, of course, isn’t complete yet. But we do know more or less what the shapes of the curves should be.  We know that they slant up on the left side of the plot because that’s where the motion is too slow and the images of a moving object start self-subtracting.  And we know that the objects we have already detected, the red stars, must lie above the lines.  So we draw the curves and shift them around till they hug the bottom of the cluster of red stars—and that’s our best guess at our detection limits.

Note that there are two green lines.  That’s because WISE spent more time making images at higher latitudes (here the symbol, beta, means latitude), so our survey is a bit more sensitive there.  There’s only one brown dwarf candidate that’s up at a high latitude where this effect comes into play, though—it’s the one sitting on the lower green line.

So there we have it: a prediction for the sensitivity of our search.  We will spot any brown dwarfs that fall above the green lines (pick the right one based on latitude).  And we are the first to make an all-sky survey of the region above the green lines and below the orange and black lines.  (A few brown dwarfs are already known in this region, but they came from surveys that only covered relatively small portions of the sky).

Now, remember that this plot uses logarithmic scales!  Each of the big ticks on the x axis is a factor of 10. Each magnitude  (the y axis) represents a factor of about 2.512. So that space on the plot could contain lots of brown dwarfs and other interesting objects, especially at high proper motions.  Good luck!

Marc Kuchner



1 thought on “We’re up to twelve brown dwarf candidates now, plus one real verified brown dwarf!”

  1. I believe the sensitivity (and the specificity) could be improved by more creative image processing. Especially now that there are more examples of what to look for in the flipbooks.


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