An L Band Spectrum of the Coldest Brown Dwarf

Caroline V. Morley, Andrew J. Skemer, Katelyn N. Allers, Mark S. Marley, Jacqueline K. Faherty, Channon Visscher, Samuel A. Beiler, Brittany E. Miles, Roxana Lupu, Richard S. Freedman, Jonathan J. Fortney, Thomas R. Geballe, Gordon L. Bjoraker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


The coldest brown dwarf, WISE 0855, is the closest known planetary-mass, free-floating object and has a temperature nearly as cold as the solar system gas giants. Like Jupiter, it is predicted to have an atmosphere rich in methane, water, and ammonia, with clouds of volatile ices. WISE 0855 is faint at near-infrared wavelengths and emits almost all its energy in the mid-infrared. Skemer et al. presented a spectrum of WISE 0855 from 4.5-5.1 μm (M band), revealing water vapor features. Here, we present a spectrum of WISE 0855 in the L band, from 3.4-4.14 μm. We present a set of atmosphere models that include a range of compositions (metallicities and C/O ratios) and water ice clouds. Methane absorption is clearly present in the spectrum. The mid-infrared color can be better matched with a methane abundance that is depleted relative to solar abundance. We find that there is evidence for water ice clouds in the M band spectrum, and we find a lack of phosphine spectral features in both the L and M band spectra. We suggest that a deep continuum opacity source may be obscuring the near-infrared flux, possibly a deep phosphorous-bearing cloud, ammonium dihyrogen phosphate. Observations of WISE 0855 provide critical constraints for cold planetary atmospheres, bridging the temperature range between the long-studied solar system planets and accessible exoplanets. The James Webb Space Telescope will soon revolutionize our understanding of cold brown dwarfs with high-precision spectroscopy across the infrared, allowing us to study their compositions and cloud properties, and to infer their atmospheric dynamics and formation processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number97
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 10 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • brown dwarfs
  • planets and satellites: atmospheres
  • planets and satellites: gaseous planets
  • stars: atmospheres

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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