Atmospheric dynamics of brown dwarfs and directly imaged giant planets

Adam P. Showman, Yohai Kaspi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

90 Scopus citations


A variety of observations provide evidence for vigorous motion in the atmospheres of brown dwarfs and directly imaged giant planets. Motivated by these observations, we examine the dynamical regime of the circulation in the atmospheres and interiors of these objects. Brown dwarfs rotate rapidly, and for plausible wind speeds, the flow at large scales will be rotationally dominated. We present three-dimensional, global, numerical simulations of convection in the interior, which demonstrate that at large scales, the convection aligns in the direction parallel to the rotation axis. Convection occurs more efficiently at high latitudes than low latitudes, leading to systematic equator-to-pole temperature differences that may reach ∼1 K near the top of the convection zone. The interaction of convection with the overlying, stably stratified atmosphere will generate a wealth of atmospheric waves, and we argue that, as in the stratospheres of planets in the solar system, the interaction of these waves with the mean flow will cause a significant atmospheric circulation at regional to global scales. At large scales, this should consist of stratified turbulence (possibly organizing into coherent structures such as vortices and jets) and an accompanying overturning circulation. We present an approximate analytic theory of this circulation, which predicts characteristic horizontal temperature variations of several to ∼50 K, horizontal wind speeds of ∼10-300 m s-1, and vertical velocities that advect air over a scale height in ∼105-106 s. This vertical mixing may help to explain the chemical disequilibrium observed on some brown dwarfs. Moreover, the implied large-scale organization of temperature perturbations and vertical velocities suggests that near the L/T transition, patchy clouds can form near the photosphere, helping to explain recent observations of brown-dwarf variability in the near-IR.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number85
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 20 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • brown dwarfs
  • convection
  • methods: numerical
  • stars: low-mass
  • turbulence
  • waves

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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