Spectroscopic Evolution of Disintegrating Planetesimals: Minute to Month Variability in the Circumstellar Gas Associated with WD 1145+017

1Seth Redfield, 2Jay Farihi, 1P. Wilson Cauley, 3Steven G. Parsons, 4Boris T. Gänsicke, 1Girish M. Duvvuri
The Astrophysical Journal 839, 42 Link to Article [https://doi.org/10.3847/1538-4357/aa68a0]
1Astronomy Department and Van Vleck Observatory, Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT 06459, USA
2Department of Physics and Astronomy, University College London, London WC1E 6BT, UK
3Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, S3 7RH, UK
4Department of Physics, University of Warwick, Coventry CV4 7AL, UK

With the recent discovery of transiting planetary material around WD 1145+017, a critical target has been identified that links the evolution of planetary systems with debris disks and their accretion onto the star. We present a series of observations, five epochs over a year, taken with Keck and the VLT, which for the first time show variability of circumstellar absorption in the gas disk surrounding WD 1145+017 on timescales of minutes to months. Circumstellar absorption is measured in more than 250 lines of 14 ions among 10 different elements associated with planetary composition, e.g., O, Mg, Ca, Ti, Cr, Mn, Fe, and Ni. Broad circumstellar gas absorption with a velocity spread of 225 km s−1 is detected, but over the course of a year blueshifted absorption disappears, while redshifted absorption systematically increases. A correlation of equivalent width and oscillator strength indicates that the gas is not highly optically thick (median τ ≈ 2). We discuss simple models of an eccentric disk coupled with magnetospheric accretion to explain the basic observed characteristics of these high-resolution and high signal-to-noise observations. Variability is detected on timescales of minutes in the two most recent observations, showing a loss of redshifted absorption for tens of minutes, coincident with major transit events and consistent with gas hidden behind opaque transiting material. This system currently presents a unique opportunity to learn how the gas causing the spectroscopic, circumstellar absorption is associated with the ongoing accretion evidenced by photospheric contamination, as well as the transiting planetary material detected in photometric observations.

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