An independent determination of Fomalhaut b's orbit and the dynamical effects on the outer dust belt

H. Beust, J. C. Augereau, A. Bonsor, J. R. Graham, P. Kalas, J. Lebreton, A. M. Lagrange, S. Ertel, V. Faramaz, P. Thébault

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Scopus citations


Context. The nearby star Fomalhaut harbors a cold, moderately eccentric (e ~ 0.1) dust belt with a sharp inner edge near 133 au. A low-mass, common proper motion companion, Fomalhaut b (Fom b), was discovered near the inner edge and was identified as a planet candidate that could account for the belt morphology. However, the most recent orbit determination based on four epochs of astrometry over eight years reveals a highly eccentric orbit (e = 0.8 ± 0.1) that appears to cross the belt in the sky plane projection. Aims. We perform here a full orbital determination based on the available astrometric data to independently validate the orbit estimates previously presented. Adopting our values for the orbital elements and their associated uncertainties, we then study the dynamical interaction between the planet and the dust ring, to check whether the proposed disk sculpting scenario by Fom b is plausible. Methods. We used a dedicated MCMC code to derive the statistical distributions of the orbital elements of Fom b. Then we used symplectic N-body integration to investigate the dynamics of the dust belt, as perturbed by a single planet. Different attempts were made assuming different masses for Fom b. We also performed a semi-analytical study to explain our results. Results. Our results are in good agreement with others regarding the orbit of Fom b. We find that the orbit is highly eccentric, is close to apsidally aligned with the belt, and has a mutual inclination relative to the belt plane of <29 (67% confidence). If coplanar, this orbit crosses the disk. Our dynamical study then reveals that the observed planet could sculpt a transient belt configuration with a similar eccentricity to what is observed, but it would not be simultaneously apsidally aligned with the planet. This transient configuration only occurs a short time after the planet is placed on such an orbit (assuming an initially circular disk), a time that is inversely proportional to the planet's mass, and that is in any case much less than the 440 Myr age of the star. Conclusions. We constrain how long the observed dust belt could have survived with Fom b on its current orbit, as a function of its possible mass. This analysis leads us to conclude that Fom b is likely to have low mass, that it is unlikely to be responsible for the sculpting of the belt, and that it supports the hypothesis of a more massive, less eccentric planet companion Fomalhaut c.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberA43
JournalAstronomy and astrophysics
StatePublished - Jan 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Celestial mechanics
  • Methods: numerical
  • Planet-disk interactions
  • Planetary systems
  • Planets and satellites: dynamical evolution and stability
  • Stars: individual: Fomalhaut

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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