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Childhood to Adolescence: Dust and Gas Clearing in Protoplanetary Disks


Brown, Joanna Margaret (2008) Childhood to Adolescence: Dust and Gas Clearing in Protoplanetary Disks. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/560K-TZ76.


Disks are ubiquitous around young stars. Over time, disks dissipate, revealing planets that formed hidden by their natal dust. Since direct detection of young planets at small orbital radii is currently impossible, other tracers of planet formation must be found. One sign of disk evolution, potentially linked to planet formation, is the opening of a gap or inner hole in the disk. In this thesis, I have identified and characterized several cold disks with large inner gaps but retaining massive primordial outer disks. While cold disks are not common, with ~5% of disks showing signs of inner gaps, they provide proof that at least some disks evolve from the inside-out. These large gaps are equivalent to dust clearing from inside the Earth's orbit to Neptune's orbit or even the inner Kuiper belt. Unlike more evolved systems like our own, the central star is often still accreting and a large outer disk remains.

I identified four cold disks in Spitzer 5-40 µm spectra and modeled these disks using a 2-D radiative transfer code to determine the gap properties. Outer gap radii of 20-45 AU were derived. However, spectrophotometric identification is indirect and model-dependent. To validate this interpretation, I observed three disks with a submillimeter interferometer and obtained the first direct images of the central holes. The images agree well with the gap sizes derived from the spectrophotometry. One system, LkH&alpha 330, has a very steep outer gap edge which seems more consistent with gravitational perturbation rather than gradual processes, such as grain growth and settling. Roughly 70% of cold disks show CO v=1&rarr 0 gas emission from the inner 1 AU and therefore are unlikely to have evolved due to photoevaporation. The derived rotation temperatures are significantly lower for the cold disks than disks without gaps. Unresolved (sub)millimeter photometry shows that cold disks have steeper colors, indicating that they are optically thin at these wavelengths, unlike their classical T Tauri star counterparts. The gaps are cleared of most ~100 µm sized grains as well as the ~10 µm sized grains visible in the mid-infrared as silicate emission features.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:astronomy; planet formation; star formation
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy
Major Option:Astronomy
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Blake, Geoffrey A.
Group:Caltech Submillimeter Observatory, Astronomy Department
Thesis Committee:
  • Brown, Michael E. (chair)
  • Blake, Geoffrey A. (co-chair)
  • Sargent, Anneila Isabel
  • Steidel, Charles C.
  • Kamionkowski, Marc P.
Defense Date:19 November 2007
Record Number:CaltechETD:etd-12182007-120046
Persistent URL:
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:5055
Deposited By: Imported from ETD-db
Deposited On:15 Jan 2008
Last Modified:08 Nov 2023 00:16

Thesis Files

PDF (jmb_thesis.pdf) - Final Version
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