Searching for Exosatellites Orbiting L and T Dwarfs: Connecting Planet Formation to Moon Formation and Finding New Temperate Worlds

Evolutionary tracks for low-mass stars, brown dwarfs and planetary-mass objects, showing effective temperature (Teff) and spectral type versus age, color-coded according to initial mass (adapted from Burrows et al. 1997). Each line represents a single object. L and T dwarfs (dashed green box) can be either stars, brown dwarfs or planets depending on their ages.

L-type and T-type dwarfs span the boundaries between main-sequence stars, brown dwarfs, and planetary-mass objects.

For these reasons, L and T dwarfs are the perfect laboratories for exploring the relationship between planet formation and moon formation, and evidence suggests they may be swarming with close-in rocky satellites, though none have been found to date. The discovery of satellites orbiting L or T dwarfs will have transformative implications for the nature of planets, moons and even life in the Universe.

These transiting satellites will be prime targets for characterization with NASA's James Webb Space Telescope. In this white paper, we discuss the scientific motivations behind searching for transiting satellites orbiting L and T dwarfs and argue that robotizing current 1-to-2-meter US optical/infrared (O/IR) facilities and equipping them with recently developed low-cost infrared imagers will enable these discoveries in the next decade. Furthermore, robotizing the 1-to-2-meter O/IR fleet is highly synergistic with rapid follow-up of transient and multi-messenger events.

Philip S. Muirhead, Julie N. Skinner, Jacqueline Radigan, Amaury Triaud, Christopher Theissen, Daniella Bardalez Gagliuffi, Patrick Tamburo, Adam Burgasser, Jacqueline Faherty, Denise Stephens
(Submitted on 18 Mar 2019)

Comments: Science white paper submitted to the Astro 2020 Decadal Survey on Astronomy and Astrophysics
Subjects: Earth and Planetary Astrophysics (astro-ph.EP); Solar and Stellar Astrophysics (astro-ph.SR)
Cite as: arXiv:1903.08090 [astro-ph.EP] (or arXiv:1903.08090v1 [astro-ph.EP] for this version)
Submission history
From: Philip Muirhead
[v1] Mon, 18 Mar 2019 14:08:36 UTC (1,236 KB)

Please follow Astrobiology on Twitter.

  • submit to reddit