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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Mass of Stirring Bodies in the AU Mic Debris Disk Inferred from Resolved Vertical Structure

  • Author(s): Daley, C
  • Hughes, AM
  • Carter, ES
  • Flaherty, K
  • Lambros, Z
  • Pan, M
  • Schlichting, H
  • Chiang, E
  • Wyatt, M
  • Wilner, D
  • Andrews, S
  • Carpenter, J
  • et al.

© 2019. The American Astronomical Society. All rights reserved. The vertical distribution of dust in debris disks is sensitive to the number and size of large planetesimals dynamically stirring the disk, and is therefore well-suited for constraining the prevalence of otherwise unobservable Uranus and Neptune analogs. Information regarding stirring bodies has previously been inferred from infrared and optical observations of debris disk vertical structure, but theoretical works predict that the small particles traced by short-wavelength observations will be puffed up by radiation pressure, yielding only upper limits. The large grains that dominate the disk emission at millimeter wavelengths are much less sensitive to the effects of stellar radiation or stellar winds, and therefore trace the underlying mass distribution more directly. Here we present ALMA 1.3 mm dust continuum observations of the debris disk around the nearby M star AU Mic. The 3 au spatial resolution of the observations, combined with the favorable edge-on geometry of the system, allows us to measure the vertical thickness of the disk. We report a scale height-to-radius aspect ratio of = -h 0.031+0.004 0.005 between radii of ∼23 au and ∼41 au. Comparing this aspect ratio to a theoretical model of size-dependent velocity distributions in the collisional cascade, we find that the perturbing bodies embedded in the local disk must be larger than about 400 km, and the largest perturbing body must be smaller than roughly 1.8M. These measurements rule out the presence of a gas giant or Neptune analog near the ∼40 au outer edge of the debris ring, but are suggestive of large planetesimals or an Earth-sized planet stirring the dust distribution.

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