A planetary collision afterglow and transit of the resultant debris cloud

Matthew Kenworthy, Simon Lock, Grant Kennedy, Richelle van Capelleveen, Eric Mamajek, Ludmila Carone, Franz Josef Hambsch, Joseph Masiero, Amy Mainzer, J. Davy Kirkpatrick, Edward Gomez, Zoë Leinhardt, Jingyao Dou, Pavan Tanna, Arttu Sainio, Hamish Barker, Stéphane Charbonnel, Olivier Garde, Pascal Le Dû, Lionel MulatoThomas Petit, Michael Rizzo Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Planets grow in rotating disks of dust and gas around forming stars, some of which can subsequently collide in giant impacts after the gas component is removed from the disk1–3. Monitoring programmes with the warm Spitzer mission have recorded substantial and rapid changes in mid-infrared output for several stars, interpreted as variations in the surface area of warm, dusty material ejected by planetary-scale collisions and heated by the central star: for example, NGC 2354–ID8 (refs. 4,5), HD 166191 (ref. 6) and V488 Persei7. Here we report combined observations of the young (about 300 million years old), solar-like star ASASSN-21qj: an infrared brightening consistent with a blackbody temperature of 1,000 Kelvin and a luminosity that is 4 percent that of the star lasting for about 1,000 days, partially overlapping in time with a complex and deep, wavelength-dependent optical eclipse that lasted for about 500 days. The optical eclipse started 2.5 years after the infrared brightening, implying an orbital period of at least that duration. These observations are consistent with a collision between two exoplanets of several to tens of Earth masses at 2–16 astronomical units from the central star. Such an impact produces a hot, highly extended post-impact remnant with sufficient luminosity to explain the infrared observations. Transit of the impact debris, sheared by orbital motion into a long cloud, causes the subsequent complex eclipse of the host star.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)251-254
Number of pages4
Issue number7982
StatePublished - Oct 12 2023

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