Given that brown dwarfs are usually much more massive than planets (see Section 15.6), it is somewhat surprising that the first incontrovertible discovery of a brown dwarf (Nakajima et al., 1995) and the discovery of the first extrasolar planet (Mayor and Queloz, 1995) were announced simultaneously in 1995. Over the past decade, the rapid progress made in both fields has been extraordinary. There are now more than 150 extrasolar planets known, including more than a dozen multiple-planet systems. The first brown dwarf, Gliese 229B, was found in orbit around an M-dwarf, but in the same year other candidates, later confirmed to be free-floating brown dwarfs, were announced (e.g. Teide 1 by Rebolo et al., 1995), along with PPl 15 which was later discovered to be a binary brown dwarf (Basri and Martin, 1999). Observations now suggest that brown dwarfs are as common as stars, although stars dominate in terms of mass (e.g. Reid et al., 1999).
Since the rest of this book is devoted to the topic of planets, in this chapter I will review the properties and potential formation mechanisms of brown dwarfs, comparing and contrasting them with planets, but referring the reader to the other chapters of the book for detailed information on planets.
The most fundamental parameter of a brown dwarf is its mass.