Molecular Gas Clumps from the Destruction of Icy Bodies in the β Pictoris Debris Disk

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Science  06 Mar 2014:
DOI: 10.1126/science.1248726

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Many stars are surrounded by disks of dusty debris formed in the collisions of asteroids, comets and dwarf planets. But is gas also released in such events? Observations at sub-mm wavelengths of the archetypal debris disk around β Pictoris show that 0.3% of a Moon mass of carbon monoxide orbits in its debris belt. The gas distribution is highly asymmetric, with 30% found in a single clump 85 AU from the star, in a plane closely aligned with the orbit of the inner planet, β Pic b. This gas clump delineates a region of enhanced collisions, either from a mean motion resonance with an unseen giant planet, or from the remnants of a collision of Mars-mass planets.

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