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Slices of Theoretical Astrophysics: Solar System Dynamics and Relativistic Explosions


Pan, Margaret Whei-Jie (2006) Slices of Theoretical Astrophysics: Solar System Dynamics and Relativistic Explosions. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/40AE-N743.


This thesis presents studies in two distinct areas of theoretical astrophysics: dynamics of planetary systems and relativistic fluid flows from shocks emerging from stellar envelopes. The first pertains to the early solar system, planet formation, and extrasolar planets; the second is related to extreme explosions like gamma-ray bursts and supernovae.

We present two investigations of the dynamics and population evolution of small solar system bodies. First, we explore the dynamics of mean-motion resonances for a test particle moving in a highly eccentric long-period orbit in the restricted circular planar three-body problem --- a scenario relevant to the scattered Kuiper belt and the formation of the Oort cloud. We find an infinite number of analogues to the Lagrange points; a simple explanation for the presence and absence of asymmetric librations in particular mean-motion resonances; and a criterion for the onset of chaotic motion at large semimajor axes.

Second, we study the size distribution of Kuiper belt objects (KBOs), which is observed to be a broken power law. We apply a simple mass conservation argument to the KBO collisional cascade to get the power-law slope for KBOs below the break; our result agrees well with observations if we assume KBOs are held together by self-gravity rather than material strength. We also explain the location and time evolution of the break in the size distribution.

We also present investigations of the flow which results when a relativistic shock propagates through and then breaks out of a stellar envelope with a polytropic density profile. This work informs predictions of the speed of and energy carried by the relativistic ejecta in supernovae and perhaps in gamma-ray bursts. We find the asymptotic solution for the flow as the shock reaches the star's edge and find a new self-similar solution for flow of hot fluid after the shock breakout. Since the post-breakout flow acclerates by converting its thermal energy into bulk kinetic energy, the fluid in the flow eventually cools to non-relativistic temperatures. We derive a second new self-similar solution which includes the cold portions of the flow. This second solution gives an exact relation between the terminal Lorentz factor of each fluid element and the Lorentz factor it acquired upon being shocked before breakout.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:collisional cascades; planetary dynamics; relativistic shocks; similarity solutions
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy
Major Option:Astrophysics
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Sari, Re'em
Group:TAPIR, Astronomy Department
Thesis Committee:
  • Kamionkowski, Marc P. (chair)
  • Brown, Michael E.
  • Scoville, Nicholas Zabriskie
  • Goldreich, Peter Martin
  • Sari, Re'em
Defense Date:23 May 2006
Record Number:CaltechETD:etd-05252006-181025
Persistent URL:
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:2058
Deposited By: Imported from ETD-db
Deposited On:02 Jun 2006
Last Modified:08 Apr 2020 18:46

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