Probing unseen planet populations with resolved debris disk structures

Kate Y.L. Su, Nick Ballering, Steve Ertel, Andras Gaspar, Grant Kennedy, David Leisawitz, Meredith MacGregor, Brenda Matthews, Amaya Moro-Martin, George Rieke, Jacob White, David Wilner, Mark Wyatt, Peter Plavchan, Christine Chen, Quentin Kral, Luca Matra, Michael Werner, Mark Booth, John Debes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Debris disks emerge when larger objects stir remnant planetesimal belts, resulting in cascades of collisions that break minor bodies (asteroids and comets) down into dust to be heated by the star, making them detectable over the whole duration of a stellar lifetime. Planets imprint their signatures on the configuration of these planetesimals: the location of the planetesimal belts is governed by where the planets form, locate and their migration history. The structure of the minor bodies in our Solar System contains clues of the past giant planet migrations and reveals the current influence of the giant planets. Thousands of exoplanets have been found with many widely different from the ones in our own system. Despite the success, systems with planets in wide orbits analogous to those of Jupiter and Saturn, in the critical first several hundred million years of evolution, are virtually unexplored. Where are the low-mass planets that are hidden from our exoplanet detection techniques? Is our Solar System's planetary architecture unique? High-fidelity debris disk images offer an effective method to answer these questions. We can use them to study the formation and evolution of low-mass planets from youth to the age of the Solar System, providing snapshots of the complex processes and valuable insights into the formation and migration history of giant planets at wide orbits. This white paper focuses on resolving debris structures in thermal emission that is applicable to a large unbiased sample. We summarize the properties of the known debris disks and assess the feasibility of resolving them within our current and future infrared and millimeter facilities by adopting uniform criteria. JWST and the 9-m Origins Space Telescope are the most promising missions in the coming decades to resolve almost half of the known disks at high fidelity. We emphasize the need to resolve disks at multiple wavelengths, particularly in the millimeter range. Resolved debris structures at multiple wavelengths and at all stages of evolution would reveal the properties of unseen planet populations, enabling a unique demographic study of overall planet formation and evolution.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalUnknown Journal
StatePublished - Mar 25 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General

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