BROWN dwarfs are starlike objects with masses less than 0.08 times that of the Sun, which are unable to sustain hydrogen fusion in their interiors1-4. They are very hard to detect, as most of the energy of gravitational contraction is radiated away within ~108 yr, leaving only a very low residual luminosity. Accordingly, almost all searches for brown dwarfs have been directed towards clusters of young stars-a strategy that has recently proved successful5,6. But there are only modest observable differences between young brown dwarfs and very lowmass stars, making it difficult to identify the former without appealing to sophisticated models7. Older brown dwarfs should have a more distinctive appearance, and if they are companions to nearby stars, their luminosity can be determined unambiguously. Here we report the discovery of a probable companion to the nearby star G1229, with no more than onetenth the luminosity of the least luminous hydro-gen-burning star. We conclude that the companion, G1229B, is a brown dwarf with a temperature of less than 1,200 K, and a mass ~20-50 times that of Jupiter.