Volume 509, January 2010
|Number of page(s)||3|
|Published online||19 January 2010|
Letter to the Editor
The lunar phases of dust grains orbiting Fomalhaut
Astronomical Institute Utrecht, University of Utrecht, PO Box 80000, 3508 TA Utrecht, The Netherlands e-mail: M.Min@uu.nl
2 Astronomical Institute Anton Pannekoek, University of Amsterdam, Kruislaan 403, 1098 SJ Amsterdam, The Netherlands
3 Afdeling Sterrenkunde, Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen, Postbus 9010, 6500 GL Nijmegen, The Netherlands
4 Insituut voor Sterrenkunde, K.U. Leuven, Celestijnenlaan 200 D, 3001 Leuven, Belgium
Accepted: 17 December 2009
Optical images of the nearby star Fomalhaut show a ring of dust orbiting the central star. This dust is in many respects expected to be similar to the zodiacal dust in the solar system. The ring displays a clear brightness asymmetry, attributed to asymmetric scattering of the central starlight by the circumstellar dust grains. Recent measurements show that the bright side of the Fomalhaut ring is oriented away from us. This implies that the grains in this system scatter most of the light in the backward direction, in sharp contrast to the forward-scattering nature of the grains in the solar system. In this letter, we show that grains considerably larger than those dominating the solar system zodiacal dust cloud provide a natural explanation for the apparent backward scattering behavior. In fact, we see the phases of the dust grains in the same way as we can observe the phases of the Moon and other large solar system bodies. We outline how the theory of the scattering behavior of planetesimals can be used to explain the Fomalhaut dust properties. This indicates that the Fomalhaut dust ring is dominated by very large grains. The material orbiting Fomalhaut, which is at the transition between dust and planetesimals, can, with respect to their optical behavior, best be described as micro-asteroids.
Key words: scattering / circumstellar matter / interplanetary medium
© ESO, 2010
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