A nongray theory of extrasolar giant planets and brown dwarfs

Adam S. Burrows, M. Marley, W. B. Hubbard, J. I. Lunine, T. Guillot, D. Saumon, R. Freedman, D. Sudarsky, C. Sharp

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1088 Scopus citations


We present the results of a new series of nongray calculations of the atmospheres, spectra, colors, and evolution of extrasolar giant planets (EGPs) and brown dwarfs for effective temperatures below 1300 K. This theory encompasses most of the mass/age parameter space occupied by substellar objects and is the first spectral study down to 100 K. These calculations are in aid of the multitude of searches being conducted or planned around the world for giant planets and brown dwarfs and reveal the exotic nature of the class. Generically, absorption by H2 at longer wavelengths and H2O opacity windows at shorter wavelengths conspire to redistribute flux blueward. Below 1200 K, methane is the dominant carbon bearing molecule and is a universal diagnostic feature of EGP and brown dwarf spectra. We find that the primary bands in which to search are Z (∼1.05 μm), J (∼1.2 μm), H (∼1.6 μm), K (∼2.2 μm), M (∼5 μm), and N (∼10 μm), that enhancements of the emergent flux over blackbody values, in particular in the near infrared, can be by many orders of magnitude, and that the infrared colors of EGPs and brown dwarfs are much bluer than previously believed. In particular, relative to J and H, the K band flux is reduced by CH4 and H2 absorption. Furthermore, we conclude that for Teff's below 1200 K most or all true metals may be sequestered below the photosphere, that an interior radiative zone is a generic feature of substellar objects, and that clouds of H2O and NH3 are formed for Teff's below ∼400 and ∼200 K, respectively. This study is done for solar-metallicity objects in isolation and does not include the effects of stellar insulation. Nevertheless, it is a comprehensive attempt to bridge the gap between the planetary and stellar realms and to develop a nongray theory of objects from 0.3MJ ("Saturn") to 70MJ (∼0.07 M). We find that the detection ranges for brown dwarf/EGP discovery of both ground- and space-based telescopes are larger than previously estimated.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)856-875
Number of pages20
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2 PART I
StatePublished - 1997

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • Planetary systems
  • Stars: Atmospheres
  • Stars: Interiors
  • Stars: Low-mass, brown dwarfs


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