L dwarf variability: I-band observations

Christopher R. Gelino, Mark S. Marley, Jon A. Holtzman, Andrew S. Ackerman, Katharina Lodders

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

111 Scopus citations


We report on the results of an I-band photometric variability survey of 18 L dwarfs. We find that seven exhibit statistically significant variations above the 95.4% confidence level with rms scatter (including photometric errors) between 0.010 and 0.083 mag. Another five targets have variability probabilities ≈80%, suggesting that these are likely variable objects. Two objects display significant peaks in a CLEAN periodogram that are several times higher than the noise. The periods found for 2MASS 0746+20AB and 2MASS 1300+19 are longer than those periods likely from rotation velocity measurements, and they do not represent periodic behavior in the light curve that persists through the entire data set. These observations suggest that we are not observing the rotation modulation of a long-lived albedo feature. Instead, rapid evolution of atmospheric features is likely causing the nonperiodic variability. The remaining variable objects show no prominent features in their light curves, suggesting even more rapid evolution of atmospheric features. We argue against the existence of magnetic spots in these atmospheres and favor the idea that nonuniform condensate coverage is responsible for these variations. The magnetic Reynolds number in the atmospheres of L dwarfs is too small to support the formation of magnetic spots. In contrast, silicate and iron clouds are expected to form in the photospheres of L dwarfs. Inhomogeneities in such cloud decks and the evolution of the inhomogeneities can plausibly produce the observed photometric variations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)433-446
Number of pages14
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1 I
StatePublished - Sep 20 2002
Externally publishedYes


  • Stars: atmospheres
  • Stars: low-mass, brown dwarfs

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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