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Grain Growth in Protoplanetary Disks


Pérez Muñoz, Laura María (2013) Grain Growth in Protoplanetary Disks. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/1BJC-4G54.


The majority of young, low-mass stars are surrounded by optically thick accretion disks. These circumstellar disks provide large reservoirs of gas and dust that will eventually be transformed into planetary systems. Theory and observations suggest that the earliest stage toward planet formation in a protoplanetary disk is the growth of particles, from sub-micron-sized grains to centimeter- sized pebbles. Theory indicates that small interstellar grains are well coupled into the gas and are incorporated to the disk during the proto-stellar collapse. These dust particles settle toward the disk mid-plane and simultaneously grow through collisional coagulation in a very short timescale. Observationally, grain growth can be inferred by measuring the spectral energy distribution at long wavelengths, which traces the continuum dust emission spectrum and hence the dust opacity. Several observational studies have indicated that the dust component in protoplanetary disks has evolved as compared to interstellar medium dust particles, suggesting at least 4 orders of magnitude in particle- size growth. However, the limited angular resolution and poor sensitivity of previous observations has not allowed for further exploration of this astrophysical process.

As part of my thesis, I embarked in an observational program to search for evidence of radial variations in the dust properties across a protoplanetary disk, which may be indicative of grain growth. By making use of high angular resolution observations obtained with CARMA, VLA, and SMA, I searched for radial variations in the dust opacity inside protoplanetary disks. These observations span more than an order of magnitude in wavelength (from sub-millimeter to centimeter wavelengths) and attain spatial resolutions down to 20 AU. I characterized the radial distribution of the circumstellar material and constrained radial variations of the dust opacity spectral index, which may originate from particle growth in these circumstellar disks. Furthermore, I compared these observational constraints with simple physical models of grain evolution that include collisional coagulation, fragmentation, and the interaction of these grains with the gaseous disk (the radial drift problem). For the parameters explored, these observational constraints are in agreement with a population of grains limited in size by radial drift. Finally, I also discuss future endeavors with forthcoming ALMA observations.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:Young stars; planet formation; protoplanetary disks; radio astronomy.
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy
Major Option:Astrophysics
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Carpenter, John M. (advisor)
  • Sargent, Anneila Isabel (advisor)
Group:Owens Valley Radio Observatory (OVRO), Astronomy Department
Thesis Committee:
  • Hirata, Christopher M. (chair)
  • Carpenter, John M.
  • Sargent, Anneila Isabel
  • Hillenbrand, Lynne A.
  • Johnson, John A.
  • Kulkarni, Shrinivas R.
Defense Date:29 October 2012
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:05302013-223659579
Persistent URL:
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:7782
Deposited By: Laura Maria Perez Munoz
Deposited On:29 Jan 2014 21:57
Last Modified:30 May 2023 22:28

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