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Formation of sharp eccentric rings in debris disks with gas but without planets


‘Debris disks’ around young stars (analogues of the Kuiper Belt in our Solar System) show a variety of non-trivial structures attributed to planetary perturbations and used to constrain the properties of those planets1,2,3. However, these analyses have largely ignored the fact that some debris disks are found to contain small quantities of gas4,5,6,7,8,9, a component that all such disks should contain at some level10,11. Several debris disks have been measured with a dust-to-gas ratio of about unity4,5,6,7,8,9, at which the effect of hydrodynamics on the structure of the disk cannot be ignored12,13. Here we report linear and nonlinear modelling that shows that dust–gas interactions can produce some of the key patterns attributed to planets. We find a robust clumping instability that organizes the dust into narrow, eccentric rings, similar to the Fomalhaut debris disk14. The conclusion that such disks might contain planets is not necessarily required to explain these systems.

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Figure 1: Linear analysis of the axisymmetric modes of the photoelectric instability.
Figure 2: Growth and saturation of the photoelectric instability.
Figure 3: Sharp eccentric rings.


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We thank H. Latter and G. Stewart for discussions. The writing of this paper started at the American Museum of Natural History, with financial support by the National Science Foundation under grant no. AST10-09802, and was completed at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. This research was supported by an allocation of advanced computing resources supported by the National Science Foundation. The computations were performed on the Kraken system at the National Institute for Computational Sciences. W.L. is a Carl Sagan fellow. M.K. is supported in part by the NASA Astrobiology Institute through the Goddard Center for Astrobiology.

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W.L. contributed to developing the model, performed the calculations and wrote the manuscript. M.K. contributed to developing the model and writing the manuscript.

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Correspondence to W. Lyra or M. Kuchner.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

This file contains Supplementary Text and Data, Supplementary Table 1, Supplementary Figures 1-9 and additional references. It provides: estimates of gas in debris disks, the mathematical model used in the numerical simulations, a linear stability analysis of the system, an exploration of the parameter space, the analytics of stratification in the presence of photoelectric heating, and comparison with the streaming instability. (PDF 8564 kb)

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Lyra, W., Kuchner, M. Formation of sharp eccentric rings in debris disks with gas but without planets. Nature 499, 184–187 (2013).

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