Name/Affiliation: Xi Zhang (University of Arizona)
Atmospheric circulation of Brown Dwarfs: jets, vortices, and time variability
Under the conditions of fast rotation, strong radiative dissipation and no external stellar flux, brown dwarfs occupy a unique corner of the parameter space of atmospheric dynamics theories. Here we ask: do the atmospheres of the brown dwarfs exhibit east-west jets pattern as exist on both the gas giants in our solar system and the close-in extra-solar giant planets, or are they dominated by isotropic turbulence and vortices instead? The answer is crucial for the interpretation of observed time variability of L/T dwarfs as well as being of fundamental theoretical interest. We used a global two-dimensional (2D) shallow-water model to investigate the dominant atmospheric features during the continuous transition from gas giants to brown dwarfs. We show that the existence and properties of the jets crucially depend on several key parameters including the energy injection rate and radiative damping timescale. Under conditions of strong internal heat flux and weak radiative dissipation, east-west jets spontaneously emerge from the interaction of atmospheric turbulence with the planetary rotation. When the internal heat flux is weak and/or radiative dissipation is strong, turbulence injected into the atmosphere damps before it can self-organize into jets, leading to a flow dominated by isotropic turbulence and vortices instead. We present a scaling law as a quantitative criterion for the emergence of jets versus vortices on gas giants and brown dwarfs. The long-time integration of the shallow water system provides a new tool to understand the effect of atmospheric dynamics on the observed light curve variations in both short and long timescales. Our simulated light curves capture the important features in recent infrared observations, such as an amplitude variation of a few percent and multi-peak shapes. This work is supported by the NSF and by a Bisgrove Scholar Program in the University of Arizona.