Models of terrestrial planet formation predict that the final stages of planetary assembly—lasting tens of millions of years beyond the dispersal of young protoplanetary disks—are dominated by planetary collisions. It is through these giant impacts that planets like the young Earth grow to their final mass and achieve long-term stable orbital configurations1. A key prediction is that these impacts produce debris. So far, the most compelling observational evidence for post-impact debris comes from the planetary system around the nearby 23-million-year-old A-type star HD 172555. This system shows large amounts of fine dust with an unusually steep size distribution and atypical dust composition, previously attributed to either a hypervelocity impact2,3 or a massive asteroid belt4. Here we report the spectrally resolved detection of a carbon monoxide gas ring co-orbiting with dusty debris around HD 172555 between about six and nine astronomical units—a region analogous to the outer terrestrial planet region of our Solar System. Taken together, the dust and carbon monoxide detections favour a giant impact between large, volatile-rich bodies. This suggests that planetary-scale collisions, analogous to the Moon-forming impact, can release large amounts of gas as well as debris, and that this gas is observable, providing a window into the composition of young planets.
- Pub Date:
- October 2021
- Astrophysics - Earth and Planetary Astrophysics
- 21 pages (double spaced, including references and figures), 3 figures, 1 table, published in Nature 20/10/2021, published version available online through SharedIt initiative at https://rdcu.be/cAlEy