Constraining Substellar Magnetic Dynamos Using Auroral Radio Emission (speaker: Melodie Kao, CalTech)

Thursday October 6, 2016 3:00 pm

An important outstanding problem in dynamo theory is understanding how magnetic fields are generated and sustained in fully convective stellar objects.  A number of models for possible dynamo mechanisms in this regime have been proposed but constraining data on magnetic field strengths and topologies across a wide range of mass, age, rotation rate, and temperature are sorely lacking, particularly in the brown dwarf regime.   Detections of highly circularly polarized pulsed radio emission provide our only window into magnetic field measurements for objects in the ultracool brown dwarf regime. However, these detections are very rare; previous radio surveys encompassing ∼60 L6 or later targets have yielded only one detection.

We have developed a selection strategy for biasing survey targets based on possible optical and infrared tracers of auroral activity.  Using our selection strategy, we previously observed six late L and T dwarfs with the Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) and detected the presence of highly circularly polarized radio emission for five targets.  Our initial detections at 4-8 GHz provided the most robust constraints on dynamo theory in this regime, confirming magnetic fields >2.5 kG.  To further develop our understanding of magnetic fields in the ultracool brown dwarf mass regime bridging planets and stars, we present constraints on surface magnetic field strengths for two Y-dwarfs and additionally extended initial observations of the detected L/T dwarfs to higher frequencies corresponding ~3.6 kG fields.  By carefully comparing magnetic field measurements derived from auroral radio emission to measurements derived from Zeeman broadening and Zeeman Doppler imaging, we provide tentative evidence that the dynamo operating in this mass regime may be inconsistent with predicted values from currently in vogue models.  This suggests that parameters beyond convective flux may influence magnetic field generation in brown dwarfs.

MIT Exoplanet Tea meets weekly on Thursdays, from 3-4pm in 54-824.

Jennifer Burt
Torres Exoplanet Fellow
MIT Kavli Institute
77 Massachusetts Ave., 37-348h
Cambridge, MA 02139