L Dwarfs and the Substellar Mass Function
Analysis of initial observations sky surveys has shown that the resulting photometric catalogs, combined with far-red optical data, provide an extremely effective method of finding isolated, very low-temperature objects in the general field. Follow-up observations have already identified more than 25 sources with temperatures cooler than the latest M dwarfs. A comparison with detailed model predictions (Burrows & Sharp 1999) indicates that these L dwarfs have effective temperatures between ≈2000 ± 100 K and 1500 ± 100 K, while the available trigonometric parallax data place their luminosities at between 10 -3.5 and 10. Those properties, together with the detection of lithium in one-third of the objects, are consistent with the majority having substellar masses. The mass function cannot be derived directly, since only near-infrared photometry and spectral types are available for most sources, but we can incorporate VLM/brown dwarf models in simulations of the solar neighborhood population and constrain Ψ( M ) by comparing the predicted L dwarf surface densities and temperature distributions against observations from the Deep Near-Infrared Survey (DENIS) and 2 Micron All-Sky Survey (2MASS) surveys. The data, although sparse, can be represented by a power-law mass function, Ψ( M ) M -α , with 1 < α < 2. Current results favor a value nearer the lower limit. If α = 1.3, then the local space density of 0.075 > M / M ☉ > 0.01 brown dwarfs is 0.10 systems pc -3 . In that case, brown dwarfs are twice as common as main-sequence stars but contribute no more than ~15% of the total mass of the disk.