Friday, November 18, 2016

The Composition of Fragmenting Asteroids Around White Dwarf WD 1145+017


Redfield et al


With the recent discovery of transiting planetary material around WD 1145+017, a critical target has been identified that links the evolution of planetary systems with debris disks and their accretion onto the star. We present a series of observations, five epochs over a year, taken with Keck and the VLT, which for the first time show variability of circumstellar absorption in the gas disk surrounding WD 1145+017 on timescales of minutes to months. Circumstellar absorption is measured in more than 250 lines of 14 ions among ten different elements associated with planetary composition, e.g., O, Mg, Ca, Ti, Cr, Mn, Fe, Ni. Broad circumstellar gas absorption with a velocity spread of 225 km/s is detected, but over the course of a year blue shifted absorption disappears while redshifted absorption systematically increases. A correlation of equivalent width and oscillator strength indicates that the gas is not highly optically thick (median tau approximately 2). We discuss simple models of an eccentric disk coupled with magnetospheric accretion to explain the basic observed characteristics of these high resolution and high signal-to-noise observations. Variability is detected on timescales of minutes in the two most recent observations, showing a loss of redshifted absorption for tens of minutes, coincident with major transit events and consistent with gas hidden behind opaque transiting material. This system currently presents a unique opportunity to learn how the gas causing the spectroscopic, circumstellar absorption is associated with the ongoing accretion evidenced by photospheric contamination, as well as the transiting planetary material detected in photometric observations.

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