Retrieval of atmospheric properties of cloudy L dwarfs

Ben Burningham, M. S. Marley, M. R. Line, R. Lupu, C. Visscher, C. V. Morley, D. Saumon, R. Freedman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

81 Scopus citations


We present the first results from applying the spectral inversion technique in the cloudy L dwarf regime. Our newframework provides a flexible approach to modelling cloud opacity which can be built incrementally as the data require and improves upon previous retrieval experiments in the brown dwarf regime by allowing for scattering in two-stream radiative transfer. Our first application of the tool to two mid-L dwarfs is able to reproduce their near-infrared spectra far more closely than grid models. Our retrieved thermal, chemical and cloud profiles allow us to estimate Teff = 1796-25+23 K and log g = 5.21-0.08+0.05 for 2MASS J05002100+0330501, and for 2MASSW J2224438-015852 we find Teff = 1723-19+18 K and log g = 5.31-0.08+0.04, in close agreement with previous empirical estimates. Our best model for both objects includes an optically thick cloud deck which passes τ cloud ≥ 1 (looking down) at a pressure of around 5 bar. The temperature at this pressure is too high for silicate species to condense, and we argue that corundum and/or iron clouds are responsible for this cloud opacity. Our retrieved profiles are cooler at depth and warmer at altitude than the forward grid models that we compare, and we argue that some form of heating mechanism may be at work in the upper atmospheres of these L dwarfs.We also identify anomalously high CO abundance in both targets, which does not correlate with the warmth of our upper atmospheres or our choice of cloud model, and find similarly anomalous alkali abundance for one of our targets. These anomalies may reflect unrecognized shortcomings in our retrieval model or inaccuracies in our gas phase opacities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1177-1197
Number of pages21
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 1 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Brown dwarfs
  • Planets and satellites: atmospheres
  • Radiative transfer
  • Stars: atmospheres

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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