A Monitoring Campaign for Luhman 16AB. I. Detection of Resolved Near-Infrared Spectroscopic Variability


We report resolved near-infrared spectroscopic monitoring of the nearby L dwarf/T dwarf binary WISE J104915.57-531906.1AB (Luhman 16AB), as part of a broader campaign to characterize the spectral energy distribution and temporal variability of this system. A continuous 45 minute sequence of low-resolution IRTF/SpeX data spanning 0.8-2.4 μm were obtained, concurrent with combined-light optical photometry with ESO/TRAPPIST. Our spectral observations confirm the flux reversal of this binary, and we detect a wavelength-dependent decline in the relative spectral fluxes of the two components coincident with a decline in the combined-light optical brightness of the system over the course of the observation. These data are successfully modeled as a combination of achromatic (brightness) and chromatic (color) variability in the T0.5 Luhman 16B, consistent with variations in overall cloud opacity; and no significant variability was found in L7.5 Luhman 16A, consistent with recent resolved photometric monitoring. We estimate a peak-to-peak amplitude of 13.5% at 1.25 μm over the full light curve. Using a simple two-spot brightness temperature model for Luhman 16B, we infer an average cold covering fraction of ≈30%-55%, varying by 15%-30% over a rotation period assuming a ≈200-400 K difference between hot and cold regions. We interpret these variations as changes in the covering fraction of a high cloud deck and corresponding "holes" which expose deeper, hotter cloud layers, although other physical interpretations are possible. A Rhines scale interpretation for the size of the variable features explains an apparent correlation between period and amplitude for Luhman 16B and the variable T dwarfs SIMP 0136+0933 and 2MASS J2139+0220, and predicts relatively fast winds (1-3 km s-1) for Luhman 16B consistent with light curve evolution on an advective time scale (1-3 rotation periods). The strong variability observed in this flux reversal brown dwarf pair supports the model of a patchy disruption of the mineral cloud layer as a universal feature of the L dwarf/T dwarf transition.


Physics, Astronomy, and Materials Science

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© 2014 The American Astronomical Society. All rights reserved

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The Astrophysical Journal