Impact of Water-latent Heat on the Thermal Structure of Ultra-cool Objects: Brown Dwarfs and Free-floating Planets

Shih Yun Tang, Tyler D. Robinson, Mark S. Marley, Natasha E. Batalha, Roxana Lupu, L. Prato

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Brown dwarfs are essential targets for understanding planetary and sub-stellar atmospheres across a wide range of thermal and chemical conditions. As surveys continue to probe ever deeper and as observing capabilities continue to improve, the number of known Y dwarfs - the coldest class of sub-stellar objects, with effective temperatures below about 600 K - is rapidly growing. Critically, this class of ultra-cool objects has atmospheric conditions that overlap with solar-system worlds and, as a result, tools and ideas developed from studying Earth, Jupiter, Saturn, and other nearby worlds are well suited for application to sub-stellar atmospheres. To that end, we developed a one-dimensional (vertical) atmospheric structure model for ultra-cool objects that includes moist adiabatic convection, as this is an important process for many solar-system planets. Application of this model across a range of effective temperatures (350, 300, 250, 200 K), metallicities ([M/H] of 0.0, 0.5, 0.7, 1.5), and gravities (log g of 4.0, 4.5, 4.7, 5.0) demonstrates strong impact of water-latent heat release on simulated temperature-pressure profiles. At the highest metallicities, water-vapor mixing ratios reach an Earth-like 3% with associated major alterations to the thermal structure in the atmospheric regions where water condenses. Spectroscopic and photometric signatures of metallicity and moist convection should be readily detectable at near- and mid-infrared wavelengths, especially with James Webb Space Telescope observations, and can help indicate the formation history of an object.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number26
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Nov 20 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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