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News Release 10 of 13

August 24, 2000 01:00 AM (EDT)

News Release Number: STScI-2000-19

Hubble Spies Brown Dwarfs in Nearby Stellar Nursery

August 24, 2000: Probing deep within a neighborhood stellar nursery, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope uncovered a swarm of newborn brown dwarfs. The orbiting observatory's near-infrared camera revealed about 50 of these objects throughout the Orion Nebula's Trapezium cluster [image at right], about 1,500 light-years from Earth. Appearing like glistening precious stones surrounding a setting of sparkling diamonds, more than 300 fledgling stars and brown dwarfs surround the brightest, most massive stars [center of picture] in Hubble's view of the Trapezium cluster's central region. The brown dwarfs are too dim to be seen in an image taken by the Hubble telescope's visible-light camera [picture at left].

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Q & A: Understanding the Discovery

  1. 1. What are brown dwarfs?

  2. Brown dwarfs are gaseous objects with masses so low their cores never become hot enough to fuse hydrogen, the thermonuclear fuel stars like the Sun need to shine steadily. Instead, these gaseous objects fade and cool as they grow older. Brown dwarfs around the age of the Sun (5 billion years old) are very cool and dim, and therefore are difficult for telescopes to find. The brown dwarfs discovered in the Trapezium, however, are youngsters (1 million years old). So they're still hot and bright, and easier to see.

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Credits for near-infrared image: NASA; K.L. Luhman (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge, Mass.); and G. Schneider, E. Young, G. Rieke, A. Cotera, H. Chen, M. Rieke, R. Thompson (Steward Observatory, University of Arizona, Tucson, Ariz.)

Credits for visible-light picture: NASA, C.R. O'Dell and S.K. Wong (Rice University)