Extreme collisions between planetesimals as the origin of warm dust around a Sun-like star

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The slow but persistent collisions between asteroids in our Solar System generate a tenuous cloud of dust known as the zodiacal light (because of the light the dust reflects). In the young Solar System, such collisions were more common and the dust production rate should have been many times larger1. Yet copious dust in the zodiacal region around stars much younger than the Sun has rarely been found2. Dust is known to orbit around several hundred main-sequence stars3, but this dust is cold and comes from a Kuiper-belt analogous region out beyond the orbit of Neptune. Despite many searches, only a few main-sequence stars reveal warm (> 120 K) dust analogous to zodiacal dust near the Earth3,4,5. Signs of planet formation (in the form of collisions between bodies) in the regions of stars corresponding to the orbits of the terrestrial planets in our Solar System have therefore been elusive. Here we report an exceptionally large amount of warm, small, silicate dust particles around the solar-type star BD+20 307 (HIP 8920, SAO 75016). The composition and quantity of dust could be explained by recent frequent or huge collisions between asteroids or other ‘planetesimals’ whose orbits are being perturbed by a nearby planet.

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Figure 1: Infrared spectrum of BD+20 307.
Figure 2: Spectral energy distribution of BD+20 307.


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We thank G. Preston for obtaining the echelle spectrum and S. Fisher for help acquiring Gemini Michelle data. This research was supported by NASA grants to Gemini, CIW and UCLA, and by the UCLA and CIW nodes of the NASA Astrobiology Institute. This paper is based on observations obtained at the Gemini and Keck Observatories. The Gemini Observatory is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., under a cooperative agreement with the NSF on behalf of the Gemini partnership: the National Science Foundation (United States), the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (United Kingdom), the National Research Council (Canada), CONICYT (Chile), the Australian Research Council (Australia), CNPq (Brazil) and CONICET (Argentina). The Keck Observatory is operated as a scientific partnership among the California Institute of Technology, The University of California and NASA.

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Correspondence to Inseok Song.

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Song, I., Zuckerman, B., Weinberger, A. et al. Extreme collisions between planetesimals as the origin of warm dust around a Sun-like star. Nature 436, 363–365 (2005) doi:10.1038/nature03853

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