Recurring occultations of rw aurigae by coagulated dust in the tidally disrupted circumstellar disk

Joseph E. Rodriguez, Phillip A. Reed, Robert J. Siverd, Joshua Pepper, Keivan G. Stassun, B. Scott Gaudi, David A. Weintraub, Thomas G. Beatty, Michael B. Lund, Daniel J. Stevens

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19 Scopus citations


We present photometric observations of RW Aurigae, a Classical T Tauri system, that reveal two remarkable dimming events. These events are similar to that which we observed in 2010-2011, which was the first such deep dimming observed in RW Aur in a century's worth of photometric monitoring. We suggested the 2010-2011 dimming was the result of an occultation of the star by its tidally disrupted circumstellar disk. In 2012-2013, the RW Aur system dimmed by ∼0.7 mag for ∼40 days and in 2014/2015 the system dimmed by ∼2 mag for >250 days. The ingress/egress duration measurements of the more recent events agree well with those from the 2010-2011 event, providing strong evidence that the new dimmings are kinematically associated with the same occulting source as the 2010-2011 event. Therefore, we suggest that both the 2012-2013 and 2014-2015 dimming events, measured using data from the Kilodegree Extremely Little Telescope and the Kutztown University Observatory, are also occultations of RW Aur A by the tidally disrupted circumstellar material. Recent hydrodynamical simulations of the eccentric fly-by of RW Aur B suggest the occulting body to be a bridge of material connecting RW Aur A and B. These simulations also suggest the possibility of additional occultations which are supported by the observations presented in this work. The color evolution of the dimmings suggest that the tidally stripped disk material includes dust grains ranging in size from small grains at the leading edge, typical of star-forming regions, to large grains, ices or pebbles producing gray or nearly gray extinction deeper within the occulting material. It is not known whether this material represents arrested planet building prior to the tidal disruption event, or perhaps accelerated planet building as a result of the disruption event, but in any case the evidence suggests the presence of advanced planet building material in the space between the two stars of the RW Aur system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number29
JournalAstronomical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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