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A circumbinary debris disk in a polluted white dwarf system

Nature Astronomy volume 1, Article number: 0032 (2017) | Download Citation

Abstract

Planetary systems commonly survive the evolution of single stars, as evidenced by terrestrial-like planetesimal debris observed orbiting and polluting the surfaces of white dwarfs 1,2 . 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 excess 3,4 ; 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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Acknowledgements

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

Affiliations

  1. Department of Physics and Astronomy, University College London, London WC1E 6BT, UK

    • J. Farihi
  2. Departamento de Física y Astronomía, Universidad de Valparaíso, Valparaíso 2360102, Chile

    • S. G. Parsons
  3. Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Sheffield, Sheffield S3 7RH, UK

    • S. G. Parsons
  4. Department of Physics, University of Warwick, Coventry CV4 7AL, UK

    • B. T. Gänsicke

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Contributions

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.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to J. Farihi.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/s41550-016-0032

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