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Session 32 - Stellar Astrophysics II.
Oral session, Monday, January 15
La Condesa, Hilton

[32.05] HST Observations of the Beta Pictoris Circumstellar Disk

C. J. Burrows (STScI,ESA), J. E. Krist (STScI), K. R. Stapelfeldt (JPL), WFPC2 Investigation Definition Team

The disk surrounding Beta Pictoris has been imaged with the Hubble Space Telescope Planetary Camera in the four photometric filters centered near 439, 555, 675 and 814 nm, and at a total of four different spacecraft roll angles. After masking the images to exclude the disk region, a composite PSF was constructed that enabled us to generate three statistically independent images of the disk for each filter. The images show the disk in reflected light from a radius of about 1.5 arcseconds to about 10 arcseconds. We have developed a full three dimensional simulation of the disk which reproduces the observed scattered light distribution and the known infrared photometry and direct imaging from IRAS and previous ground based investigations in a self-consistent manner. By least squares fitting all of the data we are able to derive geometric parameters of the disk and constrain the optical properties of its particles. The scattering is well described by small particles with a visible albedo of around 0.4 and a small scattering phase function variation. The inclination of the disk axis to the plane of the sky is only of order 1 degree. There is a relatively clear zone in the disk with the normal optical depth decreasing linearly within 40 AU from the star from a constant value of 0.005 between 40 and 100 AU. We find that the scale height of the disk is roughly constant within the inner 100 AU, while the outer disk has a linear scale height power law consistent with previous investigations. The disk density is not Gaussian in cross section, as might be expected for a Maxwellian distribution of similar particles, but exponential. We do not interpret this as evidence for pressure support, but rather as evidence for a particle mass spectrum. Several previously reported north-south disk asymmetries are evident in the data, but a significant new result is a rotationally symmetric warp in the inner disk. Detailed dynamical simulations based on the observed mass distribution and with an appropriate collisional viscosity show that this warp is not sustainable in the disk for more than 1 Myr, which is very small compared to the probable age of the system and its collisional timescale with other stars. We conclude that it is likely that at least one massive substellar companion in an inclined orbit to the star is responsible for maintaining the warp. This companion may also be responsible for stirring up the disk within 100 AU and generating the clearer zone within 40 AU.

Program listing for Monday