Evidence for the Disruption of a Planetary System During the Formation of the Helix Nebula
AffiliationLarge Binocular Telescope Observatory, University of Arizona
Department of Astronomy, Steward Observatory, University of Arizona
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PublisherAmerican Astronomical Society
CitationMarshall, J. P., Ertel, S., Birtcil, E., Villaver, E., Kemper, F., Boffin, H., ... & Kamath, D. (2022). Evidence for the disruption of a planetary system during the formation of the Helix Nebula. The Astronomical Journal, 165(1), 22.
Rights© 2022. The Author(s). Published by the American Astronomical Society. Original content from this work may be used under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 licence.
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AbstractThe persistence of planetary systems after their host stars evolve into their post-main-sequence phase is poorly constrained by observations. Many young white dwarf systems exhibit infrared excess emission and/or spectral absorption lines associated with a reservoir of dust (or planetesimals) and its accretion. However, most white dwarfs are too cool to sufficiently heat any circumstellar dust to detectable levels of emission. The Helix Nebula (NGC 7293) is a young, nearby planetary nebula; observations at mid- and far-infrared wavelengths have revealed excess emission associated with its central white dwarf (WD 2226-210). The origin of this excess is ambiguous. It could be a remnant planetesimal belt, a cloud of comets, or the remnants of material shed during the post-asymptotic giant branch (post-AGB) phase. Here we combine infrared (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, Spitzer, Herschel) and millimeter (Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array) observations of the system to determine the origin of this excess using multiwavelength imaging and radiative transfer modeling. We find the data are incompatible with a compact remnant planetesimal belt or post-AGB disk, and conclude the dust most likely originates from deposition by a cometary cloud. The measured dust mass, and lifetime of the constituent grains, implies disruption of several thousand Hale-Bopp equivalent comets per year to fuel the observed excess emission around the Helix Nebula’s white dwarf. © 2022. The Author(s). Published by the American Astronomical Society.
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Except where otherwise noted, this item's license is described as © 2022. The Author(s). Published by the American Astronomical Society. Original content from this work may be used under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 licence.