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Direct Detection of Brown Dwarf Companions of Nearby Stars


Oppenheimer, Ben R. (1999) Direct Detection of Brown Dwarf Companions of Nearby Stars. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/5C8H-1A83.


This thesis presents the first direct detection of a substellar companion of a star other than the Sun. This object, a brown dwarf called Gliese 229B, presented a unique opportunity to characterize low-temperature brown dwarfs for the first time. The discovery and initial spectrum of Gliese 229B show that the object must be substellar based on its intrinsic luminosity of 6.4 x 10-6 L☉ and its cool surface temperature, 900 K. Detailed study of Gliese 229B includes extensive photometric measurements from 0.5 to 12 µm, high signal-to-noise ratio spectroscopy from 0.84 to 5.0 µm and the detection of 0".1 yr -1 of orbital motion. These results are presented in Chapters 2 and 3.

A detailed review of brown dwarf science leads to a complete and scientifically meaningful definition of the classes "planet" and "brown dwarf" in Chapter 1.

After the discovery of Gliese 229B, which was found in a survey for companions of young stars, we began an extensive search for brown dwarf companions in orbit about all known stars within 8 pc of the Sun and with δ > -35°. The search includes optical coronagraphic and infrared direct imaging of these stars, conducted on the Palomar 60" and 200" telescopes respectively. The search was designed to find companions of each star without color bias. While the search revealed no other brown dwarf companions of these stars, it did uncover 6 new stellar companions. The sensitivity limits of the survey permit the detection of brown dwarfs up to four magnitudes fainter than Gliese 229B around 90% of the stars. The sensitivity is, however, not-uniform spatially or from star to star. This limits our ability to make strong statements about the prevalence of brown dwarf companions of nearby stars. The survey does have sensitivity to all stellar companions between 3 and 30" from the survey stars, however.

Chapter 5 describes related work on very low-mass stars in the Pleiades star cluster. This optical spectroscopy involved trying to find a brown dwarf member of the Pleiades by identifying lithium absorption features. We revealed no brown dwarf members of the Pleiades but did discover two members with ages much younger than the age of the Pleiades (120 Myr). We provide an adequate explanation for the presence of these stars.

The three appendices summarize work conducted in association with the Palomar Adaptive Optics System. The work includes (1) the detailed study and characterization of the deformable mirror, (2) invention of a fast calibration scheme for the deformable mirror and (3) the design and implementation of the fast steering mirror.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:Astronomy ; brown dwarf
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy
Major Option:Astronomy
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Kulkarni, Shrinivas R.
Group:Astronomy Department
Thesis Committee:
  • Unknown, Unknown
Defense Date:30 April 1999
Additional Information:Ben R. Oppenheimer is also known as Rebecca Oppenheimer.
Record Number:CaltechETD:etd-09122006-131150
Persistent URL:
Oppenheimer, Ben R.0000-0001-7130-7681
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:3498
Deposited By: Imported from ETD-db
Deposited On:27 Sep 2006
Last Modified:20 Feb 2020 18:49

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