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

A J. Burgasser, M. Gillon, J. K. Faherty, J. Radigan, A. H. M. J. Triaud, P. Plavchan, R. Street, E. Jehin, L. Delrez, C. Opitom

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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 $m 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 $m over the full light curve. Using a simple two-spot brightness temperature model for Luhman 16B, we infer an average cold covering fraction of ap3055 varying by 1530% over a rotation period assuming a ap200-400 K difference between hot and cold regions. We interpret these variations as changes in the covering fraction of a high cloud deck and corresponding ``holes'' which expose deeper, hotter cloud layers, although other physical interpretations are possible. A Rhines scale interpretation for the size of the variable features explains an apparent correlation between period and amplitude for Luhman 16B and the variable T dwarfs SIMP 0136+0933 and 2MASS J2139+0220, and predicts relatively fast winds (1-3 km s$^-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.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages10
JournalThe Astrophysical Journal
Issue number1
Early online date25 Mar 2014
Publication statusPublished - 10 Apr 2014


  • binaries: visual
  • brown dwarfs
  • stars;individual WISE J104915.57-531906.1AB Luhman 16AB
  • stars: low-mass


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