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Nature. 2006 Jun 8;441(7094):724-6.

Stabilization of the disk around beta Pictoris by extremely carbon-rich gas.

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Exoplanets and Stellar Astrophysics Laboratory, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland 20771, USA.


The edge-on disk surrounding the nearby young star beta Pictoris is the archetype of 'debris disks', which are composed of dust and gas produced by collisions between--and evaporation of--planetesimals, analogues of Solar System comets and asteroids. These disks may provide insight into the formation and early evolution of terrestrial planets. Previous work on beta Pic concluded that the disk gas has roughly solar abundances of elements, but this poses a problem because such gas should rapidly be blown away from the star, contrary to observations showing a stable gas disk in keplerian rotation. Here we report the detection of singly and doubly ionized carbon (C II, C III) and neutral atomic oxygen (O I) gas in the beta Pic disk. Carbon is extremely overabundant relative to every other measured element. This appears to solve the problem of the stable gas disk, because the carbon overabundance should keep the gas disk in keplerian rotation. The overabundance may indicate that the gas is produced from material more carbon-rich than expected of Solar System analogues.


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