Dust in brown dwarfs and extra-solar planets: III. Testing synthetic spectra on observations

S. Witte, Ch Helling, T. Barman, N. Heidrich, P. H. Hauschildt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

93 Scopus citations


Context. This work is concerned with dust formation in ultra-cool atmospheres, encompassing the latest type stars, brown dwarfs, and hot giant exoplanets. Dust represents one of the most important and yet least understood sources of opacity in these types of objects. Aims.We compare our model spectra with SpeX data in order to draw conclusions about the dust cloud structure and related quantities in ultra-cool atmospheres. Methods.We use the self-consistent Drift-Phoenix atmosphere code, which features a kinetic dust formation mechanism and accounts for the dust cloud influence on the spectra. Results. We present fits of our latest model spectra to observations that cover a wide range of our model grid. The results are remarkably good, yielding significant improvement over the older Cond-/Dusty-Phoenix models, especially in the L-dwarf regime. The new models are able to properly reproduce observed spectra, including complicated features such as the molecular band strengths. This raises confidence in the reliability of our dust-modeling approach. Conclusions.We demonstrate that our code produces excellent results concerning the fitting with observations. This suggests that our dust cloud and atmosphere structures are reasonably accurate. Like all other current cloud models, ours is not able to produce satisfying results for spectral types later than L6 without manually tuning down the amount of dust. Our results show the formation of convective cells within the cloud, which are able to destroy the lower cloud parts. The dust opacity is reduced significantly without the need to tune the dust cloud thickness. There are indications that the cycle of dust accumulation and cloud destruction by convection is time-dependent on rather long timescales. Considering a statistical distribution of locally variable dust clouds over a dwarf's surface can result in a large number of spectral configurations for the same model atmosphere parameters, hence introducing an additional and more or less random degree of freedom to those atmospheres. Without resorting to the model atmosphere parameters, this alone can account for the unusually red and blue objects that have been discovered.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberA44
JournalAstronomy and astrophysics
StatePublished - 2011


  • astrochemistry
  • brown dwarfs
  • methods: numerical
  • stars: atmospheres
  • stars: low-mass

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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