Further defining spectral type "y" and exploring the low-mass end of the field brown dwarf mass function

J. Davy Kirkpatrick, Christopher R. Gelino, Michael C. Cushing, Gregory N. MacE, Roger L. Griffith, Michael F. Skrutskie, Kenneth A. Marsh, Edward L. Wright, Peter R. Eisenhardt, Ian S. McLean, Amanda K. Mainzer, Adam J. Burgasser, C. G. Tinney, Stephen Parker, Graeme Salter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

250 Scopus citations


We present the discovery of another seven Y dwarfs from the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE). Using these objects, as well as the first six WISE Y dwarf discoveries from Cushing et al., we further explore the transition between spectral types T and Y. We find that the T/Y boundary roughly coincides with the spot where the J - H colors of brown dwarfs, as predicted by models, turn back to the red. Moreover, we use preliminary trigonometric parallax measurements to show that the T/Y boundary may also correspond to the point at which the absolute H (1.6 μm) and W2 (4.6 μm) magnitudes plummet. We use these discoveries and their preliminary distances to place them in the larger context of the solar neighborhood. We present a table that updates the entire stellar and substellar constituency within 8pc of the Sun, and we show that the current census has hydrogen-burning stars outnumbering brown dwarfs by roughly a factor of six. This factor will decrease with time as more brown dwarfs are identified within this volume, but unless there is a vast reservoir of cold brown dwarfs invisible to WISE, the final space density of brown dwarfs is still expected to fall well below that of stars. We also use these new Y dwarf discoveries, along with newly discovered T dwarfs from WISE, to investigate the field substellar mass function. We find that the overall space density of late-T and early-Y dwarfs matches that from simulations describing the mass function as a power law with slope -0.5 < α < 0.0; however, a power law may provide a poor fit to the observed object counts as a function of spectral type because there are tantalizing hints that the number of brown dwarfs continues to rise from late-T to early-Y. More detailed monitoring and characterization of these Y dwarfs, along with dedicated searches aimed at identifying more examples, are certainly required.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number156
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jul 10 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • brown dwarfs
  • solar neighborhood
  • stars: low-mass
  • stars: luminosity function, mass function
  • surveys
  • techniques: spectroscopic

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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