Thursday, April 06, 2006

Ubiquitous dwarfs

Just finished the first draft of a short story which, although it needs several more passes through the word processor, now has a beginning, middle, and end. Part of the action takes place around a brown dwarf; while doing a spot of research last week I found a report about a brown dwarf that has only just been discovered on our doorstep, relatively speaking. This one is 12.7 light years from the Sun; the nearest orbits Epsilon Indi, just 11.8 light years away.

I have a soft spot for these odd little critters, which are formed in the same way as stars but are too small to sustain hydrogen fusion. They featured in my first novel, Four Hundred Billion Stars, published way back in 1988, when brown dwarfs were still a theoretical concept. And now it seems they may be as numerous as ordinary stars, and because they’re heated by nothing more than gravitational contraction and the odd spot of deuterium fusion, the coolest brown dwarfs have water and methane in their atmospheres -- and the possibility of some form of life. But that’s another story.


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