Robust detection of quasi-periodic variability: A HAWKI mini survey of late T dwarfs

S. P. Littlefair, B. Burningham, Ch Helling

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We present HAWK-I J-band light curves of five late-type T dwarfs (T6.5-T7.5) with a typical duration of four hours, and investigate the evidence for quasi-periodic photometric variability on intra-night timescales. Our photometry reaches precisions in the range 7-20 mmag, after removing instrumental systematics that correlate with sky background, seeing and airmass. Based upon a Lomb-Scargle periodogram analysis, the latest object in the sample - ULAS J2321 (T7.5) - appears to show quasi-periodic variability with a period of 1.64 hours and an amplitude of 3 mmag. Given the low amplitude of variability and presence of systematics in our lightcurves, we discuss a Bayesian approach to robustly determine if quasi-periodic variability is present in a lightcurve affected by red noise. Using this approach, we conclude that the evidence for quasi-periodic variability in ULAS J2321 is not significant. As a result, we suggest that studies which identify quasi-periodic variables using the false alarm probability from a Lomb-Scargle periodogram are likely to over-estimate the number of variable objects, even if field stars are used to set a higher false alarm probability threshold. Instead we argue that a hybrid approach combining a false alarm probability cut, followed by Bayesian model selection, is necessary for robust identification of quasi-periodic variability in lightcurves with red noise.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4250-4258
Number of pages9
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number4
Early online date31 Dec 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2017


  • brown dwarfs


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