New Observations Suggest Our Galaxy Contains 100 Billion Failed Stars
New research suggests our galaxy contains as many as 100 billion brown dwarfs—a type of celestial object that didn’t have quite what it takes to become a full-fledged star. The finding shows just how ubiquitous brown dwarfs really are, and how many false starts are involved in the formation of new stars.
Brown dwarfs exist in a hazy area of astronomy. They’re too hot and big to be planets—about 15 to 80 times the mass of Jupiter—but they’re too small to be stars, lacking enough mass to sustain stable hydrogen fusion at their cores. Brown dwarfs are a result of processes that normally lead to the formation of stars, so they’re often referred to as “failed stars.” Harsh, but that’s astronomy for you.
Back in 2013, astronomers started to get an inkling that brown dwarfs are a fairly common fixture of the galaxy, offering a ballpark estimate of 70 billion. But a new analysis presented today at the National Astronomy Meeting at the University of Hull is claiming to offer the most accurate census figure to date, a revised estimate of 100 billion. Given that the Milky Way contains anywhere between 100 to 400 billion actual stars, this finding implies that our galaxy is littered with these free-floating failures.