Brown Dwarfs and their Big Siblings

My latest article is up at Sky & Telescope.  I discuss two recent studies suggest that brown dwarfs, or so-called “failed stars,” are nevertheless more like stars than planets.


Artist Conception of a Brown Dwarf Atmosphere / NASA JPL

Brown dwarfs are the exceedingly common runts of the stellar litter. But even though they’re everywhere, their faint glow makes them difficult to observe and understand. Two recent studies shed light on the formation of these once-exotic objects.

First proposed as an idea in the 1960s and finally discovered in the 1990s, brown dwarfs bridge the gap between the smallest stars and the largest planets, never igniting hydrogen fusion in their cores. They cool off over time, slowly shedding the nascent heat leftover from their formation as a dim glow.

Read more here!


A feeble giant appears

So much of our night sky has yet to be mapped by large, deep surveys.  A recent paper highlights the importance of ongoing work, as astronomers have just iddes-dwarf-galaxy-candidates-480px-300x171entified a new companion galaxy to our Milky Way.  Named “Crater 2” this galaxy is the fourth largest discovered around our Galaxy, and is quite distant, nearly 400,000 light years away.  You can read more about Crater 2 and my take on it over at Sky and Telescope.

Bringing the Moon to Rider

One of the wonderful programs run by NASA is the Lunar and Meteorite Disk Program, which allows educators the opportunity to borrow samples of moon rocks collected by Apollo astronauts, along with some meteorites recovered all over the globe.  I used the moon rocks as part of my introductory Astronomy class here at Rider, and gave my students a chance to examine pieces of other worlds.  Adam Grybowski put together a nice article for the News@Rider detailing our class.

Astronomy in the Era of Large Surveys

I got the chance to speak at Google over the winter break as part of the Talks at Google series.  If you are interested in hearing the talk, its now on YouTube (and embedded below).  The entire trip to Mountain View was a great time, and the audience for my talk was engaging and had great questions.  Astronomy is entering an exciting era, where surveys such as Gaia and LSST will provide the precise data needed to answer some of our biggest questions,  including characterizing dark energy and producing exquisite maps of the Milky Way.  Moreover, all of the data will be public, meaning anyone with an internet connection can get their hands on cutting edge data.  The opportunities for citizen science will be outstanding.  Hope you enjoy the talk!

Not so average (stars!)

Last week I got the chance to be on the Preston and Steve morning drive time show at WMMR.  The entire experience was a blast, and I want to thank Nick McIlwain for setting the whole thing up.  I was invited to the show as a “not your average listener”;  a segment that features fans of the show that have done something remarkable.  After learning about my discovery of the most distant stars in the Milky Way, Nick invited me to come by the studio.  You can hear the audio from the interview here (I come on around 2h and 5 minutes).   Thankfully, the WMMR listeners agreed that I was “not so average” and I walked away with some extra cash.  Thanks Nick and the rest of the P&S and WMMR team!