An interferometric study of the fomalhaut inner debris disk. II. Keck nuller mid-infrared observations

B. Mennesson, O. Absil, J. Lebreton, J. C. Augereau, E. Serabyn, M. M. Colavita, R. Millan-Gabet, W. Liu, P. Hinz, P. Thébault

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18 Scopus citations


We report on high-contrast mid-infrared observations of Fomalhaut obtained with the Keck Interferometer Nuller (KIN) showing a small resolved excess over the level expected from the stellar photosphere. The measured null excess has a mean value of 0.35% ± 0.10% between 8 and 11 μm and increases from 8 to 13 μm. Given the small field of view of the instrument, the source of this marginal excess must be contained within 2 AU of Fomalhaut. This result is reminiscent of previous VLTI K-band (≃2μm) observations, which implied the presence of a ∼0.88% excess, and argued that thermal emission from hot dusty grains located within 6 AU from Fomalhaut was the most plausible explanation. Using a parametric two-dimensional radiative transfer code and a Bayesian analysis, we examine different dust disk structures to reproduce both the near- and mid-infrared data simultaneously. While not a definitive explanation of the hot excess of Fomalhaut, our model suggests that the most likely inner few AU disk geometry consists of a two-component structure, with two different and spatially distinct grain populations. The 2-11 μm data are consistent with an inner hot ring of very small (≃10-300 nm) carbon-rich grains concentrating around 0.1 AU. The second dust population - inferred from the KIN data at longer mid-infrared wavelengths - consists of larger grains (size of a few microns to a few tens of microns) located further out in a colder region where regular astronomical silicates could survive, with an inner edge around 0.4 AU-1 AU. From a dynamical point of view, the presence of the inner concentration of submicron-sized grains is surprising, as such grains should be expelled from the inner planetary system by radiation pressure within only a few years. This could either point to some inordinate replenishment rates (e.g., many grazing comets coming from an outer reservoir) or to the existence of some braking mechanism preventing the grains from moving out.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number119
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2013


  • circumstellar matter
  • infrared: stars
  • instrumentation: interferometers
  • stars: individual (Fomalhaut)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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