Citizen Scientist Leads Discovery of 34 Ultracool Dwarf Binaries Using Just Archival Data

How often do stars live alone? For brown dwarfs — objects that straddle the boundary between the most massive planets and the smallest stars — astronomers need to uncover more examples of their companions to find out. Ace citizen scientist Frank Kiwy has done just that by using the Astro Data Lab science platform at NSF’s NOIRLab to discover 34 new ultracool dwarf binary systems in the Sun’s neighborhood, nearly doubling the number of such systems known.


A citizen scientist has searched NSF’s NOIRLab’s catalog of 4 billion celestial objects, known as NOIRLab Source Catalog DR2, to reveal brown dwarfs with companions. His intensive investigation led to the discovery of 34 ultracool dwarf binary systems, nearly doubling previously known samples [1].


Brown dwarfs lie somewhere between the most massive planets and the smallest stars. Lacking the mass needed to sustain nuclear reactions in their core, brown dwarfs loosely resemble cooling embers on a huge scale. Their faintness and relatively small sizes make them difficult to identify. Data from sensitive telescopes have enabled the discovery of several thousand objects but just a small subset have been identified as binaries. The difficulty in observing these faint embers also means that astronomers are still unsure how often brown dwarfs have companions.


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