Journal Article

The properties of brown dwarfs and low-mass hydrogen-burning stars formed by disc fragmentation

Dimitris Stamatellos and Anthony P. Whitworth

in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

Published on behalf of The Royal Astronomical Society

Volume 392, issue 1, pages 413-427
Published in print January 2009 | ISSN: 0035-8711
Published online December 2008 | e-ISSN: 1365-2966 | DOI:
The properties of brown dwarfs and low-mass hydrogen-burning stars formed by disc fragmentation

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We suggest that a high proportion of brown dwarf (BD) stars are formed by gravitational fragmentation of massive extended discs around Sun-like primary stars. We argue that such discs should arise frequently, but should be observed infrequently, precisely because they fragment rapidly. By performing an ensemble of radiation-hydrodynamic simulations, we show that such discs typically fragment within a few thousand years, and produce mainly BD stars, but also planetary-mass (PM) stars and very low-mass hydrogen-burning (HB) stars. Subsequently most of the lower mass stars (i.e. the PM and BD stars) are ejected by mutual interactions. We analyse the statistical properties of these stars, and compare them with observations.

After a few hundred thousand years the Sun-like primary is typically left with a close low-mass HB companion, and two much wider companions: a low-mass HB star and a BD star, or a BD–BD binary. The orbits of these companions are highly eccentric, and not necessarily coplanar, either with one another, or with the original disc. There is a BD desert extending out to at least ∼100 au; this is because BDs tend to be formed further out than low-mass HB stars, and then they tend to be scattered even further out, or even into the field.

BDs form with discs of a few Jupiter masses and radii of a few tens of au, and they are more likely to retain these discs if they remain bound to the primary star. Binaries form by pairing of the newly formed stars in the disc, giving a low-mass binary fraction of ∼0.16. These binaries include close and wide BD/BD binaries and BD/PM binaries. Binaries can be ejected into the field and survive, even if they have quite wide separations. BDs that remain as companions to Sun-like stars are more likely to be in BD/BD binaries than are BDs ejected into the field. The presence of close and distant companions around Sun-like stars may inhibit planet formation by core accretion.

We conclude that disc fragmentation is a robust mechanism for BD formation. Even if only a small fraction of Sun-like stars host the required massive extended discs, this mechanism can produce all the PM stars observed, most of the BD stars and a significant proportion of the very low-mass HB stars.

Keywords: accretion, accretion discs; hydrodynamics; radiative transfer; methods: numerical; stars: formation; stars: low-mass, brown dwarfs

Journal Article.  10598 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Astronomy and Astrophysics

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