Tuesday, February 25, 2014

What is the Fomalhaut System's Configuration?

Consequences of an eccentric orbit for Fomalhaut b




Fomalhaut b is currently the least massive, directly imaged exoplanet candidate. New observation epochs have revealed this object to be moving on a highly eccentric orbit, which sets important new constraints. I consider scenarios where Fomalhaut b is the only object interacting with the debris disc, and ones involving an additional unseen planet. I also investigate the possibility that Fomalhaut b is merely a transient dust cloud in light of the revised eccentric orbit. I argue that the scenario best able to match the observational constraints is a super-Earth Fomalhaut b surrounded by a vast cloud of dust that is generated by a population of irregular satellites, with an undetected ∼Saturn-mass planet orbiting interior to the disc and driving the secular dynamics. Testable predictions are summarized that could differentiate between this scenario and other possibilities.

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