July 2002 • 2002ApJ...573..394B
Abstract • We have generated new, self-consistent spectral and atmosphere models for the effective temperature range 600-1300 K thought to encompass the known T dwarfs. For the first time, theoretical models are compared with a family of measured T dwarf spectra at wavelengths shortward of ~1.0 μm. By defining spectral indices and standard colors in the optical and very near-infrared, we explore the theoretical systematics with Teff, gravity, and metallicity. We conclude that the short-wavelength range is rich in diagnostics that complement those in the near-infrared now used for spectral subtyping. We also conclude that the wings of the Na D and K I (7700 Å) resonance lines and aggressive rainout of heavy metals (with the resulting enhancement of the sodium and potassium abundances at altitude) are required to fit the new data shortward of 1.0 μm. Furthermore, we find that the water bands weaken with increasing gravity, that modest decreases in metallicity enhance the effect in the optical of the sodium and potassium lines, and that at low values of Teff, in a reversal of the normal pattern, optical spectra become bluer with further decreases in Teff. Moreover, we conclude that T dwarf subtype is not a function of Teff alone but that it is a nontrivial function of gravity and metallicity as well. As do Marley and coworkers in their 2002 work, we see evidence in early T dwarf atmospheres of a residual effect of clouds. With cloudless models, we obtain spectral fits to the two late T dwarfs with known parallaxes, but a residual effect of clouds on the emergent spectra of even late T dwarfs cannot yet be discounted. However, our focus is not on detailed fits to individual objects but on the interpretation of the overall spectral and color trends of the entire class of T dwarfs, as seen at shorter wavelengths.