Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Outer Edges of Protoplanetary Dust Disks



Tilman Birnstiel and Sean M. Andrews


The expectation that aerodynamic drag will force the solids in a gas-rich protoplanetary disk to spiral in toward the host star on short timescales is one of the fundamental problems in planet formation theory. The nominal efficiency of this radial drift process is in conflict with observations, suggesting that an empirical calibration of solid transport mechanisms in a disk is highly desirable. However, the fact that both radial drift and grain growth produce a similar particle size segregation in a disk (such that larger particles are preferentially concentrated closer to the star) makes it difficult to disentangle a clear signature of drift alone. We highlight a new approach, by showing that radial drift leaves a distinctive "fingerprint" in the dust surface density profile that is directly accessible to current observational facilities. Using an analytical framework for dust evolution, we demonstrate that the combined effects of drift and (viscous) gas drag naturally produce a sharp outer edge in the dust distribution (or, equivalently, a sharp decrease in the dust-to-gas mass ratio). This edge feature forms during the earliest phase in the evolution of disk solids, before grain growth in the outer disk has made much progress, and is preserved over longer timescales when both growth and transport effects are more substantial. The key features of these analytical models are reproduced in detailed numerical simulations, and are qualitatively consistent with recent millimeter-wave observations that find gas/dust size discrepancies and steep declines in dust continuum emission in the outer regions of protoplanetary disks.

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