The stars shine brightly above Mines: How to find a planet

Just as every person is essentially different, so too is there a remarkable variety of stars that dot the sky. Where once the stars were believed to be pin holes in the fabric of night, through the advent of massive telescopes, it is now possible to observe the great variety of stars. Despite claims from some scientists, the Earth does not orbit an average star. Our fair Sol is among the higher percentages in star size, yet is relatively calm. Larger than Sol are the giants and super giants, vast spheres of hydrogen that can barely contain their own mass and fight for existence within their own radiation winds. Smaller than Sol there are the brown dwarfs.

Brown dwarfs are tiny in the realm of the stars. Compared to the main sequence stars, they appear almost as planets, barely giving off enough light to be seen across the vast void of space. Still, these stars hold valuable scientific data that has helped advance the field of planetary science within the past few years. The majority of stars start from humble beginnings. Slowly gas and dust accumulate into a proto-star with a disc of dust surrounding it. In some cases, this disc is very tiny and extremely immature, only seeded with the most basic elements of hydrogen, helium, and a bit of oxygen. Other stars are much more gifted; their discs contain a varied palate of elements and may even have elements above iron bestowed upon them by a nearby supernova.

These discs will slowly condense through gravity and begin to form planets or, if there is enough material, a small secondaryl star. So where would the humble brown dwarf come in to this whole planetary discussion? Brown dwarfs are just as capable as their massive brethren of having planets, but in the case of brown dwarfs, it is significantly easier to observe these planets. Of the many methods of planetary detection, one of the more popular and useful involves tracking the light output from a stellar body. If a planet exists in orbit around the star and the planet comes in between the star and the telescope, the scientists will observe a small decrease in output from the star. In the case of brown dwarfs, due to their small size and small output, a planet will block comparatively more of the output and thus will be easier to see.

The majority of current findings of planetary bodies come from analysis of brown dwarfs. Who knows what may be found orbiting larger stars with the advances of the Kepler mission and others to come. For being so small and almost invisible, brown dwarfs have had more than their share of scientific findings.

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