Dust Evolution Can Produce Scattered Light Gaps in Protoplanetary Disks

Preprint, Article English OPEN
Birnstiel, Tilman ; Andrews, Sean M. ; Pinilla, Paola ; Kama, Mihkel (2015)
  • Related identifiers: doi: 10.1088/2041-8205/813/1/L14
  • Subject: Astrophysics - Solar and Stellar Astrophysics | Astrophysics - Earth and Planetary Astrophysics
    arxiv: Astrophysics::Galaxy Astrophysics | Astrophysics::Earth and Planetary Astrophysics

Recent imaging of protoplanetary disks with high resolution and contrast have revealed a striking variety of substructure. Of particular interest are cases where near-infrared scattered light images show evidence for low-intensity annular "gaps." The origins of such structures are still uncertain, but the interaction of the gas disk with planets is a common interpretation. We study the impact that the evolution of the solid material can have on the observable properties of disks in a simple scenario without any gravitational or hydrodynamical disturbances to the gas disk structure. Even with a smooth and continuous gas density profile, we find that the scattered light emission produced by small dust grains can exhibit ring-like depressions similar to those presented in recent observations. The physical mechanisms responsible for these features rely on the inefficient fragmentation of dust particles. The occurrence and position of the proposed "gap" features depend most strongly on the dust-to-gas ratio, the fragmentation threshold velocity, the strength of the turbulence, and the age of the disk, and should be generic (at some radius) for typically adopted disk parameters. The same physical processes can affect the thermal emission at optically thin wavelengths ($\sim$1 mm), although the behavior can be more complex; unlike for disk-planet interactions, a "gap" should not be present at these longer wavelengths.
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