Multiple scattering polarization of substellar-mass objects: T dwarfs

Sujan Sengupta, Mark S. Marley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


While there have been multiple observational programs aimed at detecting linear polarization of optical radiation emitted by ultracool dwarfs, there has been comparatively less rigorous theoretical analysis of the problem. The general expectation has been that the atmospheres of those substellar-mass objects with condensate clouds would give rise to linear polarization due to scattering. Because of rotation-induced non-sphericity, there is expected to be incomplete cancellation of disk-integrated net polarization and thus a finite polarization. For cloudless objects, however, only molecular Rayleigh scattering will contribute to any net polarization and this limit has not been well studied. Hence in this paper we present a detailed multiple scattering analysis of the polarization expected from those T-dwarfs whose spectra show absence of condensates. For this, we develop and solve the full radiative transfer equations for linearly polarized radiation. Only atomic and molecular Rayleigh scattering are considered to be the sources of polarization. We compute the local polarization at different angular directions in a plane-parallel atmosphere calculated for the range of effective temperatures of T dwarfs and then average over the whole surface of the object. The effects of gravity and limb darkening as well as rotation induced non-sphericity are included. It is found that the amount of polarization decreases with the increase in effective temperature. It is also found that significant polarization at any local point in the atmosphere arises only in the optical (B band). However, the disk integrated polarization - even in the B band - is negligible. Hence we conclude that, unlike the case for cloudy L dwarfs, polarization of cloudless T dwarfs by atomic and molecular scattering may not be detectable. In the future we will extend this work to cloudy L and T dwarf atmospheres.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)716-726
Number of pages11
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Dust, extinction
  • Polarization
  • Scattering
  • Stars: atmospheres
  • Stars: low-mass, brown dwarfs

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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