In a first-of-its-kind collaboration, NASA’s Spitzer and Swift space telescopes joined forces to reveal a brown dwarf – thought to be the missing link between planets and stars, with masses up to 80 times that of our solar system’s most massive planet, Jupiter.
The discovery of this brown dwarf, with the unwieldy name OGLE-2015-BLG-1319, marks the first time two space telescopes have collaborated to observe a microlensing event — when a distant star brightens due to the gravitational field of at least one foreground cosmic object, NASA said in a statement on Thursday.
“We want to understand how brown dwarfs form around stars, and why there is a gap in where they are found relative to their host stars,” said Yossi Shvartzvald from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, and lead author of a study published in the Astrophysical Journal.
Spitzer and Swift observed the microlensing event after being tipped off by ground-based microlensing surveys, including the Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment (OGLE).
By combining data from these space-based and ground-based telescopes, researchers determined that the newly discovered brown dwarf is between 30 and 65 Jupiter masses. They also found that the brown dwarf orbits a K dwarf, a type of star that tends to have about half the mass of the sun.
“In the future, we hope to have more observations of microlensing events from multiple viewing perspectives, allowing us to probe further the characteristics of brown dwarfs and planetary systems,” co-author of the study Geoffrey Bryden Jet Propulsion Laboratory.