Beyond the T Dwarfs: Theoretical Spectra, Colors, and Detectability of the Coolest Brown Dwarfs

  • Burrows A
  • Sudarsky D
  • Lunine J
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We explore the spectral and atmospheric properties of brown dwarfs cooler than the latest known T dwarfs. Our focus is on the yet-to-be-discovered free-floating brown dwarfs in the \teff range from $\sim$800 K to $\sim$130 K and with masses from 25 to 1 \mj. This study is in anticipation of the new characterization capabilities enabled by the launch of SIRTF and the eventual launch of JWST. We provide spectra from $\sim$0.4 \mic to 30 \mic, highlight the evolution and mass dependence of the dominant H$_2$O, CH$_4$, and NH$_3$ molecular bands, consider the formation and effects of water-ice clouds, and compare our theoretical flux densities with the sensitivities of the instruments on board SIRTF and JWST. The latter can be used to determine the detection ranges from space of cool brown dwarfs. In the process, we determine the reversal point of the blueward trend in the near-infrared colors with decreasing \teff, the \teffs at which water and ammonia clouds appear, the strengths of gas-phase ammonia and methane bands, the masses and ages of the objects for which the neutral alkali metal lines are muted, and the increasing role as \teff decreases of the mid-infrared fluxes longward of 4 \mic. These changes suggest physical reasons to expect the emergence of at least one new stellar class beyond the T dwarfs. Our spectral models populate, with cooler brown dwarfs having progressively more planet-like features, the theoretical gap between the known T dwarfs and the known giant planets. Such objects likely inhabit the galaxy, but their numbers are as yet unknown.

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  • Adam Burrows

  • David Sudarsky

  • Jonathan Lunine

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