Searching for Disks

In addition to planets, there are many other interesting and unexplained systems to be found within the TESS data. Professor Matthew Kenworthy from the University of Leiden, for example, is searching for circumplanetary disks of dust and rings by looking for the shadows they cast as they pass between us and their parent stars.

Searching for Disks

by Professor Matthew Kenworthy

We’re looking for stars that have single eclipses that last from a few days to a few weeks but that have no other apparent eclipses outside of this period of time.

During the eclipse, which can be anything from a 5% dip to a 90% dip, the brightness of the star can change in a matter of hours – as shown in the image below. Essentially we are looking for any kind of saw tooth pattern in the light curve.

What we think we are seeing is a large disk of dust around an unseen planet or star, and that this disk has rings in it that block out light from the host star. The sawtooth light curve is what you get when the edges of the rings cross in front of the star.

If you spot a light curve that has these characteristics it would be great if you could tag it on talk with #disk. Any stars you can identify will help tremendously in finding and understanding these curious objects!