Volume 640, August 2020
|Number of page(s)||5|
|Section||Planets and planetary systems|
|Published online||19 August 2020|
Tidal disruption versus planetesimal collisions as possible origins for the dispersing dust cloud around Fomalhaut
Department of Astronomy, Stockholm University, AlbaNova University Center,
2 Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, University of Toronto, 50 St George Street, Toronto, ON M5S 3H4, Canada
3 Department of Astronomy, Graduate School of Science, The University of Tokyo, 7-3-1 Hongo, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 113-0033, Japan
4 National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, Osawa 2-21-1, Mitaka, Tokyo 181-8588, Japan
Accepted: 6 July 2020
Recent analysis suggests that the faint optical point source observed around Fomalhaut from 2004–2014 (Fomalhaut b) is gradually fading and expanding, supporting the case that it may be a dispersing dust cloud resulting from the sudden disruption of a planetesimal. These types of disruptions may arise from catastrophic collisions of planetesimals, which are perturbed from their original orbits in the Fomalhaut dust ring by nearby giant planets. However, disruptions can also occur when the planetesimals pass within the tidal disruption field of the planet(s) that perturbed them in the first place, similar to the Shoemaker-Levy event observed in the Solar System. Given that a gravitationally focusing giant planet has a much larger interaction cross-section than a planetesimal, tidal disruption events can match or outnumber planetesimal collision events in realistic regions of parameter space. Intriguingly, the Fomalhaut dust cloud offers an opportunity to directly distinguish between these scenarios. A tidal disruption scenario leads to a very specific prediction of ephemerides for the planet causing the event. At a most probable mass of 66 M⊕, a semi-major axis of 117 AU, and a system age of 400–500 Myr, this planet would be readily detectable with the James Webb Space Telescope. The presence or absence of this planet at the specific, predicted position is therefore a distinctive indicator of whether the dispersing cloud originated from a collision of two planetesimals or from the disruption of a planetesimal in the tidal field of a giant planet.
Key words: planets and satellites: general / planet-disk interactions / stars: individual: Fomalhaut
© ESO 2020
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