The evolution of L and T dwarfs in color-magnitude diagrams

D. Salmon, Mark S. Marley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

469 Scopus citations


We present new evolution sequences for very low mass stars, brown dwarfs, and giant planets and use them to explore a variety of influences on the evolution of these objects. While the predicted adiabatic evolution of luminosity with time is very similar to results of previous work, the remaining disagreements reveal the magnitude of current uncertainty in brown dwarf evolution theory. We discuss the sources of those differences and argue for the importance of the surface boundary condition provided by atmosphere models including clouds. The L- to T-type ultracool dwarf transition can be accommodated within the Ackerman and Marley cloud model by varying the cloud sedimentation parameter. We develop a simple model for the evolution across the L/T transition. By combining the evolution calculation and our atmosphere models, we generate colors and magnitudes of synthetic populations of ultracool dwarfs in the field and in Galactic clusters. We focus on near-infrared color-magnitude diagrams (CMDs) and on the nature of the "second parameter" that is responsible for the scatter of colors along the T eff sequence. Instead of a single second parameter we find that variations in metallicity and cloud parameters, unresolved binaries, and possibly a relatively young population all play a role in defining the spread of brown dwarfs along the cooling sequence. We also find that the transition from cloudy L dwarfs to cloudless T dwarfs slows down the evolution and causes a pileup of substellar objects in the transition region, in contradiction with previous studies. However, the same model is applied to the Pleiades brown dwarf sequence with less success. Taken at face value, the present Pleiades data suggest that the L/T transition occurs at lower Teff for lower gravity objects, such as those found in young Galactic clusters. The simulated populations of brown dwarfs also reveal that the phase of deuterium burning produces a distinctive feature in CMDs that should be detectable in ̃50-100 Myr old clusters.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1327-1344
Number of pages18
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Dec 20 2008
Externally publishedYes


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

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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