Letter to the Editor
Spectro-astrometry of the pre-transitional star LkCa 15 does not reveal an accreting planet but extended Hα emission
Centro de Astrobiología (CSIC-INTA), Departamento de Astrofísica, ESA-ESAC Campus, PO Box 78, 28691, Villanueva de la Cañada, Madrid, Spain
2 School of Physics and Astronomy, University of Leeds, Woodhouse Lane, Leeds, LS2 9JT, UK
3 Hamburger Sternwarte, Gojenbergsweg 112, 21029 Hamburg, Germany
4 Quasar Science Resources, European Space Astronomy Centre, PO Box 78, 28691, Villanueva de la Cañada, Madrid, Spain
5 Department of Physics & Astronomy, 118 Kinard Laboratory, Clemson University, Clemson, SC 29634-0978, USA
6 Serco, European Space Astronomy Centre, PO Box 78, 28691, Villanueva de la Cañada, Madrid, Spain
Accepted: 4 October 2018
Context. The detection of forming planets in protoplanetary disks around young stars remains elusive, and state-of-the-art observational techniques provide somewhat ambiguous results. The pre-transitional T Tauri star LkCa 15 is an excellent example. It has been reported that it could host three planets; candidate planet b is in the process of formation, as inferred from its Hα emission. However, a more recent work casts doubts on the planetary nature of the previous detections.
Aims. We test the potential of spectro-astrometry in Hα as an alternative observational technique to detect forming planets around young stars, taking LkCa 15 as a reference case Methods. LkCa 15 was observed with the ISIS spectrograph at the 4.2 m William Herschel Telescope (WHT). The slit was oriented towards the last reported position of LkCa 15 b (parallel direction) and 90° from that (perpendicular). The photocenter and full width half maximum (FWHM) of the Gaussians fitting the spatial distribution at Hα and the adjacent continuum were measured. A wellknown binary (GU CMa) was used as a calibrator to test the spectro-astrometric performance of ISIS/WHT.
Results. A consistent spectro-astrometric signature is recovered for GU CMa. However, the photocenter shift predicted for LkCa 15 b is not detected, but the FWHM in Hα is broader than in the continuum for both slit positions. Our simulations show that the photocenter and FWHM observations cannot be explained simultaneously by an accreting planet, but the lack of photocenter shift alone could still be consistent with an emitting planet with contrast ≳5.5 mag in Hα or ≲6 mag in the adjacent continuum. In turn, both spectro-astrometric observations are naturally reproduced from a roughly symmetric Hα emitting region centered on the star and extent comparable to the orbit originally attributed to the planet at several au.
Conclusions. The extended Hα emission around LkCa 15 could be related to a variable disk wind, but additional multi-epoch data and detailed modeling are necessary to understand its physical nature. Optical spectro-astrometry carried out with mid-size telescopes is capable of probing small-scale structures in relatively faint young stars that are not easily accessible with state-of-the-art instrumentation mounted on larger telescopes. Therefore, spectro-astrometry in Hα is able to test the presence of accreting planets and can be used as a complementary technique to survey planet formation in circumstellar disks.
Key words: stars: pre-main sequence / protoplanetary disks / stars: individual: LkCa 15 / techniques: high angular resolution / techniques: spectroscopic
© ESO 2018