Hotspots and a clumpy disc: variability of brown dwarfs and stars in the young sigma Ori cluster

A. Scholz, X. Xu, R. Jayawardhana, K. Wood, J. Eisloeffel, C. Quinn

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43 Citations (Scopus)


The properties of accretion discs around stars and brown dwarfs in the Sigma Ori cluster (age 3 Myr) are studied based on near-infrared (IR) time series photometry supported by mid-IR spectral energy distributions (SEDs). We monitor similar to 30 young low-mass sources over eight nights in the J and K band using the duPont telescope at Las Campanas. We find three objects showing variability with J-band amplitudes >= 0.5 mag; five additional objects exhibit low-level variations. All three highly variable sources have been previously identified as highly variable; thus, we establish the long-term nature of their flux changes. The light curves contain periodic components with time-scales of similar to 0.5-8 d, but have additional irregular variations superimposed - the characteristic behaviour for classical T Tauri stars. Based on the colour variability, we conclude that hotspots are the dominant cause of variations in two objects (#19 and #33), including one likely brown dwarf, with spot temperatures in the range of 6000-7000 K. For the third one (#2), a brown dwarf or very low-mass star, inhomogeneities at the inner edge of the disc are the likely origin of variability. Based on mid-IR data from Spitzer, we confirm that the three highly variable sources are surrounded by circum-(sub)-stellar discs. They show typical SEDs for T Tauri-like objects. Using SED models, we infer an enhanced scaleheight in the disc for the object #2, which favours the detection of disc inhomogeneities in light curves and is thus consistent with the information from variability. In the Sigma Ori cluster, about every fifth accreting low-mass object shows persistent high-level photometric variability. We demonstrate that estimates for fundamental parameters in such objects can be significantly improved by determining the extent and origin of the variations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)873-886
Number of pages14
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 11 Sept 2009


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