The Perkins INfrared Exosatellite Survey


PINES is a search for transiting exosatellites around a sample of almost 400 nearby L and T dwarfs. L and T dwarfs span the transition from stars, to brown dwarfs, to planets, and are some of the smallest, coolest, and least-luminous host objects in the Universe. As a result, they present an extreme environment for satellite formation and evolution. We are currently searching for exosatellites orbiting L and T dwarfs via the transit method with the Mimir infrared camera on Boston University’s 1.83-meter Perkins Telescope.

The PINES name was inspired by the giant ponderosa pine trees native to the Coconino National Forest, which surround the Perkins Telescope and the nearby town of Flagstaff, Arizona (Flagstaff itself is named after a particularly tall ponderosa pine tree). PINES is a collaboration between Boston University (PI: P. Muirhead), the American Museum of Natural History, the University of Washington, and UC San Diego. Support for this project is provided by NASA’s Exoplanet Research Program.


Exosatellites around L & T Dwarfs

L and T dwarfs can be either hydrogen-fusing stars, brown dwarfs, or planetary-mass objects. Objects that orbit L and T dwarfs could be classified as either exoplanets or exomoons, depending on the host, so we prefer the more general term "exosatellite". The small radii of L and T dwarfs (~1 Jupiter radius) facilitates the detection of small, rocky planets, which may be amenable for follow-up atmospheric characterization with future space missions.

L & T Dwarf Variability

L and T dwarfs are complicated objects, and many exhibit significant variability in their lightcurves on timescales of hours. This variability is thought to be caused by surface inhomogeneities on the surfaces of rapidly rotating L and T dwarfs. PINES represents the largest photometric monitoring campaign of L and T dwarfs to date, and we hope to expand the number of known variable objects so that the mechanism for their variability can be better understood.

L & T Dwarf Eclipsing Binaries

Eclipsing binary systems enable the direct measurement of component radii and masses, which can then be compared with and inform evolutionary models. Using measured L and T dwarf binary statistics, we expect to discover a handful of benchmark eclipsing binary systems.