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SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy

Crash Course Astronomy: Brown Dwarfs

By Phil Plait

Last week’s Crash Course Astronomy was particularly fun for me, because I love the topic of exoplanets. It’s one of my favorite new fields of astronomy.

But not my only favorite. Another is brown dwarfs, objects between the masses of planets and stars. I’ve been fascinated by them since long before the first one was discovered, and I was in the right place at the right time (NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in 1997) to be able to help analyze Hubble spectra taken of one of the first ones ever seen.

Since that time we’ve learned a lot about them, and they are totally cool. And literally cool! Some have been found that are actually room temperature.

That’s why putting together this week’s CCA was also a lot of fun. See for yourself!

Two things I want to mention. One is a typo in a graphic of nearby stars. It should be Barnard's Star, not Baynard's Star. Little typos work their way in, and it's maddening when they get past me. Sorry about that.

The second thing is that sometimes I write something and do it on camera knowing what I’m trying to convey, but then later realize it can be interpreted differently. At about the 2:30 mark I mention that astronomer Jill Tarter was the person who gave brown dwarfs their name, and also mention she is a SETI scientist, looking for signals from aliens. The way I say that (“… and oh boy, we’ll get to that later!”) makes it sound like I’m disdainful of the search.

But I’m not at all! I actually meant that to be like, “Just you wait, there’s some cool stuff to come on this topic!” but the phrasing and inflection I used may not convey that the way I intended. Rest assured, I’ll be going over life in the Universe and the search thereof in a later episode, and I’m in favor of both.

Unless they’re Goa’uld. Those guys are jerks. 

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