Infrared variability of evolved protoplanetary disks: Evidence for scale height variations in the inner disk

K. M. Flaherty, J. Muzerolle, G. Rieke, R. Gutermuth, Z. Balog, W. Herbst, S. T. Megeath, M. Kun

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Scopus citations


We present the results of a multi-wavelength multi-epoch survey of five evolved protoplanetary disks in the IC348 cluster that show significant infrared variability. Using 3-8 μm and 24 μm photometry along with 5-40 μm spectroscopy from the Spitzer Space Telescope, as well as ground-based 0.8-5 μm spectroscopy, optical spectroscopy, and near-infrared photometry, covering timescales of days to years, we examine the variability in the disk, stellar, and accretion flux. We find substantial variations (10%-60%) at all infrared wavelengths on timescales of weeks to months for all of these young stellar objects. This behavior is not unique when compared to other cluster members and is consistent with changes in the structure of the inner disk, most likely scale height fluctuations on a dynamical timescale. Previous observations, along with our near-infrared photometry, indicate that the stellar fluxes are relatively constant; stellar variability does not appear to drive the large changes in the infrared fluxes. Based on our near-infrared spectroscopy of the Paβ and Brγ lines we find that the accretion rates are variable in most of the evolved disks but the overall rates are probably too small to cause the infrared variability. We discuss other possible physical causes for the variability, including the influence of a companion, magnetic fields threading the disk, and X-ray flares.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number71
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 20 2012


  • protoplanetary disks
  • stars: pre-main sequence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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