Seeing Worlds in Grains of Sand
Debris disks are circumstellar disks of dust that originate from the collision/sublimation of planetesimals. They are found around stars with a wide range of stellar masses (from the progenitors of white dwarfs to M dwarfs) indicating that planetesimal formation is a robust process that can take place under a wide range of conditions. The study of debris disks can help us learn about the diversity of planetary systems because they shed light on:
1) the small body population (frequency and timing of planetesimal formation, location, dynamical evolution and, in some cases, give hints on their properties); and
2) the presence of perturbing planetary-mass companions (from the study of debris disk structure). The exchange of debris between planetary systems is also of interest, in particular for the Solar System at early times when, in the case of the Earth, Life might have originated while large quantities of solid material could have been exchanged with other planetary systems in the Sun’s birth cluster.
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