The signature of primordial grain growth in the polarized light of the AU Microscopii debris disk.
GRAHAM J.R., KALAS P.G. and MATTHEWS B.C.
Abstract (from CDS):
We have used the Hubble Space Telescope Advanced Camera for Surveys coronagraph to make the first polarization maps of the AU Microscopii debris disk. The polarization rises from 5% at 20 AU to 40% at 80 AU. The polarization is perpendicular to the disk, indicating that the scattered light originates from micron-sized grains in an optically thin disk. Disk models show that interior to the ``birth ring'' (40-50 AU) there is a hole in the dust distribution where micron-sized dust is depleted by a factor of more than 300. The disk is collision dominated, and grains that fall inward due to drag forces undergo a destructive collision. The presence of this hole implies that the localized enhancements in surface brightness that occur at projected radii interior to the birth ring are caused by nonaxisymmetric structures in the outer disk. The grains exhibit strong forward scattering and high polarization. Spherical grains composed of conventional materials cannot reproduce these optical properties. A Mie/Maxwell-Garnett analysis demands highly porous (91%-94%) particles. In the inner solar system, porous particles form in cometary dust, where the sublimation of ices leaves a ``bird's nest'' of refractory material. In AU Mic, the grain porosity may be primordial, because the dust birth ring lies beyond the ice sublimation point. The observed porosities span the range of values implied by laboratory studies of particle coagulation by ballistic cluster-cluster aggregation. To avoid compactification, the upper size limit for the parent bodies is in the decimeter range, in agreement with theoretical predictions based on collisional lifetime arguments. Consequently, AU Mic may exhibit the signature of the primordial agglomeration process whereby interstellar grains first assembled to form macroscopic objects.