Rapid disappearance of a warm, dusty circumstellar disk



Stars form with gaseous and dusty circumstellar envelopes, which rapidly settle into disks that eventually give rise to planetary systems. Understanding the process by which these disks evolve is paramount in developing an accurate theory of planet formation that can account for the variety of planetary systems discovered so far. The formation of Earth-like planets through collisional accumulation of rocky objects within a disk has mainly been explored in theoretical and computational work in which post-collision ejecta evolution typically is ignored1,2,3, although recent work has considered the fate of such material4. Here we report observations of a young, Sun-like star (TYC 8241 2652 1) where infrared flux from post-collisional ejecta has decreased drastically, by a factor of about 30, over a period of less than two years. The star seems to have gone from hosting substantial quantities of dusty ejecta, in a region analogous to where the rocky planets orbit in the Solar System, to retaining at most a meagre amount of cooler dust. Such a phase of rapid ejecta evolution has not been previously predicted or observed, and no currently available physical model satisfactorily explains the observations.

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Figure 1: Spectral energy distribution of TYC 8241 2652 1.


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We thank J. Kastner for advice regarding X-ray data and M. Jura for suggesting the runaway accretion model. This work was based on observations obtained at the Gemini Observatory and makes use of data products from the Two Micron All Sky Survey and information from the SIMBAD and VizieR databases. C.M. acknowledges support from a LLNL Minigrant to UCLA and from the US National Science Foundation. This work was supported in part by NASA grants to UCLA and the University of Georgia.

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The authors contributed equally to this work.

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Correspondence to Carl Melis.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

This file contains Supplementary Text, in which we discuss in detail the age of TYC 8241 2652 1 and models for the disappearance of its dusty circumstellar disk, additional references and Supplementary Figure 1. (PDF 473 kb)

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Melis, C., Zuckerman, B., Rhee, J. et al. Rapid disappearance of a warm, dusty circumstellar disk. Nature 487, 74–76 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature11210

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