A Uniform Retrieval Analysis of Ultra-cool Dwarfs. III. Properties of y Dwarfs

Joseph A. Zalesky, Michael R. Line, Adam C. Schneider, Jennifer Patience

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


Ultra-cool brown dwarfs offer a unique window into understanding substellar atmospheric physics and chemistry. Their strong molecular absorption bands at infrared wavelengths, Jupiter-like radii, cool temperatures, and lack of complicating stellar irradiation make them ideal test beds for understanding Jovian-like atmospheres. Here, we report the findings of a uniform atmospheric retrieval analysis on a set of 14 Y- and T-type dwarfs observed with the Hubble Space Telescope Wide Field Camera 3 instrument. From our retrieval analysis, we find the temperature structures to be largely consistent with radiative-convective equilibrium in most objects. We also determine the abundances of water, methane, and ammonia, as well as upper limits on the alkali metals sodium and potassium. The constraints on water and methane are consistent with predictions from chemical equilibrium models, while those of ammonia may be affected by vertical disequilibrium mixing, consistent with previous works. Our key result stems from the constraints on the alkali metal abundances where we find their continued depletion with decreasing effective temperature, consistent with the trend identified in a previous retrieval analysis on a sample of slightly warmer late T-dwarfs in Line et al. (2017). These constraints show that the previously observed Y-J color trend across the T/Y transition is most likely due to the depletion of these metals, in accordance with predictions from equilibrium condensate rainout chemistry. Finally, we simulate future James Webb Space Telescope observations of ultra-cool dwarfs and find that the Near Infrared Spectrometer (NIRSpec) PRISM offers the best chance at developing high-precision constraints on fundamental atmospheric characteristics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number24
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 20 2019


  • brown dwarfs
  • infrared: stars
  • methods: statistical
  • radiative transfer
  • stars: abundances
  • stars: atmospheres

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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