Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Exozodiacal Dust Clouds Could be Formed by Exoplanets in Resonant, Eccentric Orbits


Faramaz et al


High levels of dust have been detected in the immediate vicinity of many stars, both young and old. A promising scenario to explain the presence of this short-lived dust is that these analogues to the Zodiacal cloud (or exozodis) are refilled in situ through cometary activity and sublimation. As the reservoir of comets is not expected to be replenished, the presence of these exozodis in old systems has yet to be adequately explained.

It was recently suggested that mean-motion resonances (MMR) with exterior planets on moderately eccentric (ep≳0.1) orbits could scatter planetesimals on to cometary orbits with delays of the order of several 100 Myr. Theoretically, this mechanism is also expected to sustain continuous production of active comets once it has started, potentially over Gyr-timescales.

We aim here to investigate the ability of this mechanism to generate scattering on to cometary orbits compatible with the production of an exozodi on long timescales. We combine analytical predictions and complementary numerical N-body simulations to study its characteristics.

We show, using order of magnitude estimates, that via this mechanism, low mass discs comparable to the Kuiper Belt could sustain comet scattering at rates compatible with the presence of the exozodis which are detected around Solar-type stars, and on Gyr timescales. We also find that the levels of dust detected around Vega could be sustained via our proposed mechanism if an eccentric Jupiter-like planet were present exterior to the system's cold debris disc.

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