Observations of dusty debris disks can be used to test theories of planetesimal coagulation. Planetesimals of sizes up to a couple of thousand kilometers are embedded in these disks and their mutual collisions generate the small dust grains that are observed. The dust luminosities, when combined with information on the dust spatial extent and the system age, can be used to infer initial masses in the planetesimal belts. Carrying out such a procedure for a sample of debris disks around Sun-like stars, we reach the following two conclusions. First, if we assume that colliding planetesimals satisfy a primordial size spectrum of the form dn/dssα -q, observed disks strongly favor a value of q between 3.5 and 4, while both current theoretical expectations and statistics of Kuiper belt objects favor a somewhat larger value. Second, number densities of planetesimals are two to three orders of magnitude higher in detected disks than in the Kuiper belt, for comparably sized objects. This is a surprise for the coagulation models. It would require a similar increase in the disk surface density over that of the Minimum Mass Solar Nebula, which is unreasonable. Both of our conclusions are driven by the need to explain the presence of bright debris disks at a few gigayears of age.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Astronomy and Astrophysics
- Space and Planetary Science