Predictions for shepherding planets in scattered light images of debris disks

Timothy J. Rodigas, Renu Malhotra, Philip M. Hinz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations


Planets can affect debris disk structure by creating gaps, sharp edges, warps, and other potentially observable signatures. However, there is currently no simple way for observers to deduce a disk-shepherding planet's properties from the observed features of the disk. Here we present a single equation that relates a shepherding planet's maximum mass to the debris ring's observed width in scattered light, along with a procedure to estimate the planet's eccentricity and minimum semimajor axis. We accomplish this by performing dynamical N-body simulations of model systems containing a star, a single planet, and an exterior disk of parent bodies and dust grains to determine the resulting debris disk properties over a wide range of input parameters. We find that the relationship between planet mass and debris disk width is linear, with increasing planet mass producing broader debris rings. We apply our methods to five imaged debris rings to constrain the putative planet masses and orbits in each system. Observers can use our empirically derived equation as a guide for future direct imaging searches for planets in debris disk systems. In the fortuitous case of an imaged planet orbiting interior to an imaged disk, the planet's maximum mass can be estimated independent of atmospheric models.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number65
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2014


  • circumstellar matter
  • methods: numerical
  • planet-disk interactions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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