Herschel detects oxygen in the beta Pictoris debris disk
Brandeker et al
The young star beta Pictoris is well known for its dusty debris disk, produced through the grinding down by collisions of planetesimals, kilometre-sized bodies in orbit around the star. In addition to dust, small amounts of gas are also known to orbit the star, likely the result from vaporisation of violently colliding dust grains. The disk is seen edge on and from previous absorption spectroscopy we know that the gas is very rich in carbon relative to other elements. The oxygen content has been more difficult to assess, however, with early estimates finding very little oxygen in the gas at a C/O ratio 20x higher than the cosmic value. A C/O ratio that high is difficult to explain and would have far-reaching consequences for planet formation. Here we report on observations by the far-infrared space telescope Herschel, using PACS, of emission lines from ionised carbon and neutral oxygen. The detected emission from C+ is consistent with that previously reported being observed by the HIFI instrument on Herschel, while the emission from O is hard to explain without assuming a higher-density region in the disk, perhaps in the shape of a clump or a dense torus, required to sufficiently excite the O atoms. A possible scenario is that the C/O gas is produced by the same process responsible for the CO clump recently observed by ALMA in the disk, and that the re-distribution of the gas takes longer than previously assumed. A more detailed estimate of the C/O ratio and the mass of O will have to await better constraints on the C/O gas spatial distribution.