A circumbinary debris disk in a polluted white dwarf system


Planetary systems commonly survive the evolution of single stars, as evidenced by terrestrial-like planetesimal debris observed orbiting and polluting the surfaces of white dwarfs1,2. Here, we report the identification of a circumbinary dust disk surrounding a white dwarf with a substellar companion in a 2.27 h orbit. The system bears the dual hallmarks of atmospheric metal pollution and infrared excess3,4; however, the standard (flat and opaque) disk configuration is dynamically precluded by the binary. Instead, the detected reservoir of debris must lie well beyond the Roche limit in an optically thin configuration, where erosion by stellar irradiation is relatively rapid. This finding shows that rocky planetesimal formation is robust around close binaries, even those with low mass ratios.

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Figure 1: Phased radial velocity diagrams.
Figure 2: Spectral energy distribution.
Figure 3: Circumbinary system geometry.


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The authors acknowledge the Gemini Observatory for the award of Director’s Discretionary Time for the programme, GS-2012A-DD-3. The X-shooter observations were obtained under the European Southern Observatory programmes, 093.D-0030 and 097.C-0386. J.F. thanks R. Rafikov and D. Veras for useful discussions, and acknowledges support from the United Kingdom Science and Technology Facilities Council in the form of an Ernest Rutherford Fellowship (ST/J003344/1). S.G.P. and B.T.G. received financial support from the European Research Council under the European Union’s 7th Framework Programmes, n. 340040 (HiPERCAM) and n. 320964 (WDTracer), respectively.

Author information




J.F. was the primary author, organized the observations, analysed multi-wavelength data, implemented infrared models, and interpreted the overall data. S.G.P. reduced optical spectra, performed radial velocity and time-series analysis, and calculated all binary parameters. B.T.G. analysed optical spectra and performed model atmosphere fitting to determine the primary stellar parameters. All authors contributed to and commented on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to J. Farihi.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Farihi, J., Parsons, S. & Gänsicke, B. A circumbinary debris disk in a polluted white dwarf system. Nat Astron 1, 0032 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41550-016-0032

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