Vertical Atmospheric Structure in a Variable Brown Dwarf: Pressure-dependent Phase Shifts in Simultaneous Hubble Space Telescope-Spitzer Light Curves
Heterogeneous clouds or temperature perturbations in rotating brown dwarfs produce variability in the observed flux. We report time-resolved simultaneous observations of the variable T6.5 brown dwarf 2MASS J22282889-431026 over the wavelength ranges 1.1-1.7 mum and broadband 4.5 mum. Spectroscopic observations were taken with Wide Field Camera 3 on board the Hubble Space Telescope and photometry with the Spitzer Space Telescope. The object shows sinusoidal infrared variability with a period of 1.4 hr at most wavelengths with peak-to-peak amplitudes between 1.45% and 5.3% of the mean flux. While the light curve shapes are similar at all wavelengths, their phases differ from wavelength to wavelength with a maximum difference of more than half of a rotational period. We compare the spectra with atmospheric models of different cloud prescriptions, from which we determine the pressure levels probed at different wavelengths. We find that the phase lag increases with decreasing pressure level, or higher altitude. We discuss a number of plausible scenarios that could cause this trend of light curve phase with probed pressure level. These observations are the first to probe heterogeneity in an ultracool atmosphere in both horizontal and vertical directions, and thus are an ideal test case for realistic three-dimensional simulations of the atmospheric structure with clouds in brown dwarfs and extrasolar planets.