Mass limit proposed so boffins can tell when they've fingered a brown dwarf or a fat planet

www.theregister.co.uk | 1/23/2018 | Staff
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The official definition of a planet should be updated to include an upper mass limit, so scientists can agree on whether a large newly found celestial body is either a huge planet – or a tiny failed star.

That's according to Kevin Schlaufman, an assistant professor of astrophysics at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, US.

Limit - Paper - Astrophysical - Journal - Tuesday

He proposed the upper limit in a paper published in The Astrophysical Journal on Tuesday. In it, he suggested official planets should have a maximum mass of about ten times that of Jupiter – or ten times 1.898×1027kg. Anything more, and you're wandering into brown dwarf territory, which have a mass between that of the heaviest gas giants and the lightest stars.

Any change to the official definition would have to be approved by the IAU – the International Astronomical Union, which you may recall stripped Pluto of its planet status in 2006, demoting it to a dwarf world.

Planets - Dwarves - Heavens - Bodies - Definition

Right now, it’s tricky to distinguish giant planets from brown dwarves when scanning the heavens for new bodies because the definition for a planet is open-ended.

On the one hand, you have massive exoplanets with rocky cores and gaseous envelopes, like Jupiter, and on the other, you have tiny stars incapable of burning hydrogen to form helium – unlike main sequence stars like our Sun. An upper mass limit on planets would draw a clear line between the two types of...
(Excerpt) Read more at: www.theregister.co.uk
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