Brown dwarfs represent astrophysical laboratories capable of yielding fundamental insights about planetary atmospheres and the process of star formation at low masses. Although observational and theoretical studies of brown dwarfs have progressed over the past ∼25 years, the solar neighborhood census of such objects remains incomplete, especially for populations with the very lowest luminosities. The archival data set furnished by NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) has unrivaled potential to pinpoint the lowest luminosity brown dwarfs, but this vast archive has not yet been exhaustively explored. The existing Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 citizen science project has discovered hundreds of brown dwarfs through extensive visual inspection of WISE sky maps. However, the Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 interface is primarily optimized for discovery of hypothesized outer solar system planets rather than brown dwarfs. We describe the design and launch of Backyard Worlds: Cool Neighbors, which is optimized for discovery of extremely low luminosity brown dwarfs. Whereas Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 shows participants randomly selected sky patches, Backyard Worlds: Cool Neighbors is a targeted survey. Our candidate brown dwarf targets are selected from the CatWISE2020 catalog using a machine learning technique, then visually inspected by citizen scientists to reliably confirm or reject each candidate's motion, a telltale proxy for solar neighborhood membership. Discovering extreme brown dwarfs will enable the most exceptional and diverse set of isolated exoplanet analogs to be characterized spectroscopically during JWST's lifetime.
2020 Compendium of Undergraduate Research in Astronomy and Space Science
- Pub Date:
- February 2020