Discovery of a visual T-dwarf triple system and binarity at the L/T transition

Jacqueline Radigan, Ray Jayawardhana, David Lafrenière, Trent J. Dupuy, Michael C. Liu, Alexander Scholz

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25 Citations (Scopus)


We present new high contrast imaging of eight L/T transition brown dwarfs (BDs) using the NIRC2 camera on the Keck II telescope. One of our targets, the T3.5 dwarf 2MASS J08381155+1511155, was resolved into a hierarchal triple with projected separations of 2.5 ± 0.5 AU and 27 ± 5 AU for the BC and A(BC) components, respectively. Resolved OSIRIS spectroscopy of the A(BC) components confirms that all system members are T dwarfs. The system therefore constitutes the first triple T-dwarf system ever reported. Using resolved photometry to model the integrated-light spectrum, we infer spectral types of T3 ± 1, T3 ± 1, and T4.5 ± 1 for the A, B, and C components, respectively. The uniformly brighter primary has a bluer J – Ks color than the next faintest component, which may reflect a sensitive dependence of the L/T transition temperature on gravity, or alternatively divergent cloud properties among components. Relying on empirical trends and evolutionary models we infer a total system mass of 0.034-0.104 M for the BC components at ages of 0.3-3 Gyr, which would imply a period of 12-21 yr assuming the system semimajor axis to be similar to its projection. We also infer differences in effective temperatures and surface gravities between components of no more than ~150 K and ~0.1 dex. Given the similar physical properties of the components, the 2M0838+15 system provides a controlled sample for constraining the relative roles of effective temperature, surface gravity, and dust clouds in the poorly understood L/T transition regime. For an age of 3 Gyr we estimate a binding energy of ~20 × 1041 erg for the wide A(BC) pair, which falls above the empirical minimum found for typical BD binaries, and suggests that the system may have been able to survive a dynamical ejection during formation. Combining our imaging survey results with previous work we find an observed binary fraction of 4/18 or 22+10-8% for unresolved spectral types of L9-T4 at separations greater than or similar to 0.''1. This translates into a volume-corrected frequency of 13+7-6%, which is similar to values of ~9%-12% reported outside the transition. Our reported L/T transition binary fraction is roughly twice as large as the binary fraction of an equivalent L9-T4 sample selected from primary rather than unresolved spectral types (6+6-4%); however, this increase is not yet statistically significant and a larger sample is required to settle the issue.

Original languageEnglish
Article number36
Number of pages16
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
Early online date31 Oct 2013
Publication statusPublished - 20 Nov 2013


  • Binaries: visual
  • Brown dwarfs
  • Stars: individual: 2MASS J08381155+1511155


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