Chromospheric variability in Sloan Digital Sky Survey M dwarfs. II. Short-timescale Hα variability

E. A. Kruse, E. Berger, G. R. Knapp, T. Laskar, J. E. Gunn, C. P. Loomis, R. H. Lupton, D. J. Schlegel

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31 Scopus citations


We present the first comprehensive study of short-timescale chromospheric Hα variability in M dwarfs using the individual 15 minute spectroscopic exposures for 52,392 objects from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. Our sample contains about 103-104 objects per spectral type bin in the range M0-M9, with a typical number of three exposures per object (ranging up to a maximum of 30 exposures). Using this extensive data set, we find that about 16% of the sources exhibit Hα emission in at least one exposure, and of those about 45% exhibit Hα emission in all of the available exposures. As in previous studies of Ha activity (LH α/Lbol), we find a rapid increase in the fraction of active objects from M0-M6. However, we find a subsequent decline in later spectral types that we attribute to our use of the individual spectra. Similarly, we find saturated activity at a level of LH α/Lbol ≈ 10-3.6 for spectral types M0-M5 followed by a decline to about 10-43 in the range M7-M9. Within the sample of objects with Hα emission, only 26% are consistent with non-variable emission, independent of spectral type. The Hα variability, quantified in terms of the ratio of maximum to minimum Hα equivalent width (REW), exhibits a rapid rise from M0 to M5, followed by a plateau and a possible decline in M9 objects. In particular, variability with Rew ≳ 10 is only observed in objects later than M5, and survival analysis indicates a probability of ≲0.1% that the Rew values for M0-M4 and M5-M9 are drawn from the same distribution. We further find that for an exponential distribution, the REW values follow N(REW) α exp[-(REW - 1)/2.3] for M0-M4 and α exp[-(R EW - 1)/2.9] for M5-M9. Finally, comparing objects with persistent and intermittent Hα emission, we find that the latter exhibit greater variability. Based on these results, we conclude that Ha variability in M dwarfs on timescales of 15 minutes to 1 hr increases with later spectral type, and that the variability is larger for intermittent sources.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1352-1359
Number of pages8
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 20 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • Stars: activity
  • Stars: flare
  • Stars: late-type
  • Stars: magnetic field


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