Variable Warm Dust around the Herbig Ae Star HD 169142: Birth of a Ring?

The Herbig Ae star HD 169142 is known to have a gaseous disk with a large inner hole, and also a photometrically variable inner dust component in the sub-astronomical-unit region. Following up on our previous analysis, we further studied the temporal evolution of inner dust around HD 169142, which may provide information on the evolution from late-stage protoplanetary disks to debris disks. We used near-infrared interferometric observations obtained with the Very Large Telescope Interferometer/PIONIER to constrain the dust distribution at three epochs spanning six years. We also studied the photometric variability of HD 169142 using our optical─infrared observations and archival data. Our results indicate that a dust ring at ∼0.3 au formed some time between 2013 and 2018, and then faded (but did not completely disappear) by 2019. The short-term variability resembles that observed in extreme debris disks, and is likely related to short-lived dust of secondary origin, though variable shadowing from the inner ring could be an alternative interpretation. If confirmed, this is the first direct detection of secondary dust production inside a protoplanetary disk.