Large-amplitude variations of an L/T transition brown dwarf: Multi-wavelength observations of patchy, high-contrast cloud features

Jacqueline Radigan, Ray Jayawardhana, David Lafrenière, Étienne Artigau, Mark Marley, Didier Saumon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

161 Scopus citations

Abstract

We present multiple-epoch photometric monitoring in the J, H, and K s bands of the T1.5 dwarf 2MASS J21392676+0220226 (2M2139), revealing persistent, periodic (P = 7.721 ± 0.005hr) variability with a peak-to-peak amplitude as high as 26% in the J band. The light curve shape varies on a timescale of days, suggesting that evolving atmospheric cloud features are responsible. Using interpolations between model atmospheres with differing cloud thicknesses to represent a heterogeneous surface, we find that the multi-wavelength variations and the near-infrared spectrum of 2M2139 can be reproduced by either (1) cool, thick cloud features sitting above a thinner cloud layer, or (2) warm regions of low condensate opacity in an otherwise cloudy atmosphere, possibly indicating the presence of holes or breaks in the cloud layer. We find that temperature contrasts between thick and thin cloud patches must be greater than 175K and as high as 425K. We also consider whether the observed variability could arise from an interacting binary system, but this scenario is ruled out. 2M2139 joins the T2.5 dwarf SIMP0136 discovered by Artigau and coworkers as the second L/T transition brown dwarf to display large-amplitude variability on rotational timescales, suggesting that the fragmentation of dust clouds at the L/T transition may contribute to the abrupt decline in condensate opacity and J-band brightening observed to occur over this regime.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number105
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Volume750
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - May 10 2012
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • brown dwarfs
  • stars: variables: general

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science

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