Weather on other worlds. II. Survey results: Spots are ubiquitous on L and T dwarfs

Stanimir A. Metchev, Aren Heinze, Dániel Apai, Davin Flateau, Jacqueline Radigan, Adam Burgasser, Mark S. Marley, Étienne Artigau, Peter Plavchan, Bertrand Goldman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

178 Scopus citations


We present results from the Weather on Other Worlds Spitzer Exploration Science program to investigate photometric variability in L and T dwarfs, usually attributed to patchy clouds. We surveyed 44 L3-T8 dwarfs, spanning a range of J - Ks colors and surface gravities. We find that 14/23 (61%-20%+17%, 95% confidence) of our single L3-L9.5 dwarfs are variable with peak-to-peak amplitudes between 0.2% and 1.5%, and 5/16 (31%-17%+25%) of our single T0-T8 dwarfs are variable with amplitudes between 0.8% and 4.6%. After correcting for sensitivity, we find that 80%-27%+20% of L dwarfs vary by ≤0.2%, and 36%-17%+26% of T dwarfs vary by ≤0.4%. Given viewing geometry considerations, we conclude that photospheric heterogeneities causing >0.2% 3-5 μm flux variations are present on virtually all L dwarfs, and probably on most T dwarfs. A third of L dwarf variables show irregular light curves, indicating that L dwarfs may have multiple spots that evolve over a single rotation. Also, approximately a third of the periodicities are on timescales >10 hr, suggesting that slowly rotating brown dwarfs may be common. We observe an increase in the maximum amplitudes over the entire spectral type range, revealing a potential for greater temperature contrasts in T dwarfs than in L dwarfs. We find a tentative association (92% confidence) between low surface gravity and high-amplitude variability among L3-L5.5 dwarfs. Although we can not confirm whether lower gravity is also correlated with a higher incidence of variables, the result is promising for the characterization of directly imaged young extrasolar planets through variability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number154
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2015


  • Brown dwarfs
  • Stars: Low-mass
  • Stars: Rotation
  • Stars: Variables: General
  • Starspots
  • Techniques: Photometric

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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