Sunday, March 8, 2015

Problems With Direct Observation of Edge-on Exoplanet Systems

The Pseudo-zodi Problem for Edge-on Planetary Systems


Stark et al


Future direct observations of extrasolar Earth-sized planets in the habitable zone could be hampered by a worrisome source of noise, starlight-reflecting exozodiacal dust. Mid-infrared surveys are currently underway to constrain the amount of exozodiacal dust in the habitable zones around nearby stars. However, at visible wavelengths another source of dust, invisible to these surveys, may dominate over exozodiacal dust. For systems observed near edge-on, a cloud of dust with face-on optical depth 10^-7 beyond ~5 AU can mimic the surface brightness of a cloud of exozodiacal dust with equal optical depth if the dust grains are sufficiently forward-scattering. We posit that dust migrating inward from cold debris belts via Poynting-Robertson drag could produce this "pseudo-zodiacal" effect, potentially making it ~50% as common as exozodiacal clouds. We place constraints on the disk radii and scattering phase function required to produce the effect.

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