Dancing with the stars: Formation of the Fomalhaut triple system and its effect on the debris discs

Andrew Shannon, Cathie Clarke, Mark Wyatt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Fomalhaut is a triple system, with all components widely separated (~105 au). Such widely separated binaries are thought to form during cluster dissolution, but that process is unlikely to form such a triple system. We explore an alternative scenario, where A and C form as a tighter binary from a single molecular cloud core (with semimajor axis ~104 au), and B is captured during cluster dispersal. We use N-body simulations augmented with the Galactic tidal forces to show that such a system naturally evolves into a Fomalhaut-like system in about half of cases, on a time-scale compatible with the age of Fomalhaut. From initial noninteracting orbits, Galactic tides drive cycles in B's eccentricity that lead to a close encounter with C. After several close encounters, typically lasting tens of millions of years, one of the stars is ejected. The Fomalhaut-like case with both components at large separations is almost invariably a precursor to the ejection of one component, most commonly Fomalhaut C. By including circumstellar debris in a subset of the simulations, we also show that such an evolution usually does not disrupt the coherently eccentric debris disc around Fomalhaut A, and in some cases can even produce such a disc. We also find that the final eccentricity of the disc around A and the disc around C are correlated, which may indicate that the dynamics of the three stars stirred C's disc, explaining its unusual brightness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)142-147
Number of pages6
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jun 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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