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A planetary collision afterglow and transit of the resultant debris cloud

Kenworthy, Matthew, Lock, Simon, Kennedy, Grant, van Capelleveen, Richelle, Mamajek, Eric, Carone, Ludmila, Hambsch, Franz-Josef, Masiero, Joseph, Mainzer, Amy, Kirkpatrick, J. Davy, Gomez, Edward ORCID:, Leinhardt, Zoë, Dou, Jingyao, Tanna, Pavan, Sainio, Arttu, Barker, Hamish, Charbonnel, Stéphane, Garde, Olivier, Le Dû, Pascal, Mulato, Lionel, Petit, Thomas and Rizzo Smith, Michael 2023. A planetary collision afterglow and transit of the resultant debris cloud. Nature 622 (7982) , 251–254. 10.1038/s41586-023-06573-9

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Planets grow in rotating disks of dust and gas around forming stars, some of which can subsequently collide in giant impacts after the gas component is removed from the disk1,2,3. Monitoring programmes with the warm Spitzer mission have recorded substantial and rapid changes in mid-infrared output for several stars, interpreted as variations in the surface area of warm, dusty material ejected by planetary-scale collisions and heated by the central star: for example, NGC 2354–ID8 (refs. 4,5), HD 166191 (ref. 6) and V488 Persei7. Here we report combined observations of the young (about 300 million years old), solar-like star ASASSN-21qj: an infrared brightening consistent with a blackbody temperature of 1,000 Kelvin and a luminosity that is 4 percent that of the star lasting for about 1,000 days, partially overlapping in time with a complex and deep, wavelength-dependent optical eclipse that lasted for about 500 days. The optical eclipse started 2.5 years after the infrared brightening, implying an orbital period of at least that duration. These observations are consistent with a collision between two exoplanets of several to tens of Earth masses at 2–16 astronomical units from the central star. Such an impact produces a hot, highly extended post-impact remnant with sufficient luminosity to explain the infrared observations. Transit of the impact debris, sheared by orbital motion into a long cloud, causes the subsequent complex eclipse of the host star.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Physics and Astronomy
Publisher: Nature Research
ISSN: 0028-0836
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 5 February 2024
Date of Acceptance: 25 August 2023
Last Modified: 28 Feb 2024 05:08

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