"Understanding how many low-mass objects are found in the Orion Nebula is very important to constrain current theories of star formation," said Amelia Bayo, of the Universidad de Valparaíso in Chile and the Max-Planck Institut für Astronomie, Königstuhl, in Germany. "We now realize that the way these very low-mass objects form depends on their environment." Bayo is co-author of a new study published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
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The VLT has counted ten-times more sub-stellar objects than previously known, potentially transforming our view on the mechanics of star formation within different nebulae.
Though an exciting development, there could be many more planetary-mass objects in the Orion Nebula, but we'll need a more powerful observatory to look even deeper into the twisted knots of gas and dust. And it just so happens, only a 30 minute drive from the VLT, a monster telescope is planned.
Called the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), this 40 meter optical/near-infrared telescope will be the largest on the planet and is scheduled to begin operations in 2024. It's these sub-stellar objects, generating a faint infrared glow, that will be a tantalizing target.
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"Our result feels to me like a glimpse into a new era of planet and star formation science," said lead-author Holger Drass of the Ruhr-Universität Bochum in Germany and Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, Chile. "The huge number of free-floating planets at our current observational limit is giving me hope that we will discover a wealth of smaller Earth-sized planets with the E-ELT."
Not only has this beautiful observation of the Orion Nebula given us a new appreciation for how many brown dwarfs are birthed in nebulae, it could be a prelude to the discovery of a huge number of free-floating planets that swarm in star-forming regions.
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