Secular chaos in white dwarf planetary systems: origins of metal pollution and short-period planetary companions

Christopher E. O'Connor, Jean Teyssandier, Dong Lai

Résultats de recherche: Contribution à un journal/une revueArticleRevue par des pairs


Secular oscillations in multiplanet systems can drive chaotic evolution of a small inner body through non-linear resonant perturbations. This 'secular chaos' readily pushes the inner body to an extreme eccentricity, triggering tidal interactions or collision with the central star. We present a numerical study of secular chaos in systems with two planets and test particles using the ring-averaging method, with emphasis on the relationship between the planets' properties and the time-scale and efficiency of chaotic diffusion. We find that secular chaos can excite extreme eccentricities on time-scales spanning several orders of magnitude in a given system. We apply our results to the evolution of planetary systems around white dwarfs (WDs), specifically the tidal disruption and high-eccentricity migration of planetesimals and planets. We find that secular chaos in a planetesimal belt driven by large ( ≳ 10 M), distant ( ≳ 10 au ) planets can sustain metal accretion on to a WD over Gyr time-scales. We constrain the total mass of planetesimals initially present within the chaotic zone by requiring that the predicted mass delivery rate to the Roche limit be consistent with the observed metal accretion rates of WDs with atmospheric pollution throughout the cooling sequence. Based on the occurrence of long-period exoplanets and exo-asteroid belts, we conclude that secular chaos can be a significant (perhaps dominant) channel for polluting solitary WDs. Secular chaos can also produce short-period planets and planetesimals around WDs in concert with various circularization mechanisms. We discuss prospects for detecting exoplanets driving secular chaos around WDs using direct imaging and microlensing.

langue originaleAnglais
Pages (de - à)4178-4195
Nombre de pages18
journalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Numéro de publication3
Les DOIs
Etat de la publicationPublié - 1 juil. 2022

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