Published: Exoplanets Hiding in Dusty Debris Disks

Alycia Weinberger and Timothy Rodigas are on a team that published a paper in October 2014 titled, "Probing for Exoplanets Hiding in Dusty Debris Disks: Disk Imaging, Characterization, and Exploration with HST/STIS Multi-roll Coronagraphy," in The Astronomical Journal, Volume 148, Issue 4. Former Carnegie fellows Chris Stark (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center's Exoplanets and Stellar Astrophysics Lab), John Debes (Space Telescope Science Institute), and Hannah Jang-Condell (University of Wyoming) were also on the team. 

Circumstellar Disk - HD 32297. (The Astronomical Journal, Volume 148, Issue 4., 2014)

This article, which also earned the cover spot of The Astronomical Journal this month, presents results from a several-year survey using the sharp view of the Hubble Space Telescope to uncover the incredible diversity in the architecture of debris systems that coincide with the formation of exoplanets. 

Abstract: Spatially resolved scattered-light images of circumstellar debris in exoplanetary systems constrain the physical properties and orbits of the dust particles in these systems. They also inform on co-orbiting (but unseen) planets, the systemic architectures, and forces perturbing the starlight-scattering circumstellar material. Using Hubble Space Telescope (HST)/Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS) broadband optical coronagraphy, we have completed the observational phase of a program to study the spatial distribution of dust in a sample of 10 circumstellar debris systems and 1 "mature" protoplanetrary disk, all with HST pedigree, using point-spread-function-subtracted multi-roll coronagraphy. These observations probe stellocentric distances >=5 AU for the nearest systems, and simultaneously resolve disk substructures well beyond corresponding to the giant planet and Kuiper Belt regions within our own solar system. They also disclose diffuse very low-surface-brightness dust at larger stellocentric distances. Herein we present new results inclusive of fainter disks such as HD 92945 (F disk/F star = 5 × 10-5), confirming, and better revealing, the existence of a narrow inner debris ring within a larger diffuse dust disk. Other disks with ring-like substructures and significant asymmetries and complex morphologies include HD 181327, for which we posit a spray of ejecta from a recent massive collision in an exo-Kuiper Belt; HD 61005, suggested to be interacting with the local interstellar medium; and HD 15115 and HD 32297, also discussed in the context of putative environmental interactions. These disks and HD 15745 suggest that debris system evolution cannot be treated in isolation. For AU Mic's edge-on disk, we find out-of-plane surface brightness asymmetries at >=5 AU that may implicate the existence of one or more planetary perturbers. Time-resolved images of the MP Mus protoplanetary disk provide spatially resolved temporal variability in the disk illumination. These and other new images from our HST/STIS GO/12228 program enable direct inter-comparison of the architectures of these exoplanetary debris systems in the context of our own solar system.