Roaring Storms in the Planetary-mass Companion VHS 1256-1257 b: Hubble Space Telescope Multiepoch Monitoring Reveals Vigorous Evolution in an Ultracool Atmosphere

Yifan Zhou, Brendan P. Bowler, Dániel Apai, Tiffany Kataria, Caroline V. Morley, Marta L. Bryan, Andrew J. Skemer, Björn Benneke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations

Abstract

The photometric and spectral variability of brown dwarfs probes heterogeneous temperature and cloud distributions and traces the atmospheric circulation patterns. We present a new 42 hr Hubble Space Telescope (HST) Wide Field Camera 3 G141 spectral time series of VHS 1256-1257 b, a late L-type planetary-mass companion that has been shown to have one of the highest variability amplitudes among substellar objects. The light curve is rapidly evolving and best fit by a combination of three sine waves with different periods and a linear trend. The amplitudes of the sine waves and the linear slope vary with the wavelength, and the corresponding spectral variability patterns match the predictions by models invoking either heterogeneous clouds or thermal profile anomalies. Combining these observations with previous HST monitoring data, we find that the peak-to-valley flux difference is 33% ± 2% with an even higher amplitude reaching 38% in the J band, the highest amplitude ever observed in a substellar object. The observed light curve can be explained by maps that are composed of zonal waves, spots, or a mixture of the two. Distinguishing the origin of rapid light curve evolution requires additional long-term monitoring. Our findings underscore the essential role of atmospheric dynamics in shaping brown-dwarf atmospheres and highlight VHS 1256-1257 b as one of the most favorable targets for studying the atmospheres, clouds, and atmospheric circulation of planets and brown dwarfs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number239
JournalAstronomical Journal
Volume164
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 1 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science

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