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Volatiles in Protoplanetary Disks


Zhang, Ke (2015) Volatiles in Protoplanetary Disks. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/Z9VQ30MD.


Planets are assembled from the gas, dust, and ice in the accretion disks that encircle young stars. Ices of chemical compounds with low condensation temperatures (<200 K), the so-called volatiles, dominate the solid mass reservoir from which planetesimals are formed and are thus available to build the protoplanetary cores of gas/ice giant planets. It has long been thought that the regions near the condensation fronts of volatiles are preferential birth sites of planets. Moreover, the main volatiles in disks are also the main C-and O-containing species in (exo)planetary atmospheres. Understanding the distribution of volatiles in disks and their role in planet-formation processes is therefore of great interest.

This thesis addresses two fundamental questions concerning the nature of volatiles in planet-forming disks: (1) how are volatiles distributed throughout a disk, and (2) how can we use volatiles to probe planet-forming processes in disks? We tackle the first question in two complementary ways. We have developed a novel super-resolution method to constrain the radial distribution of volatiles throughout a disk by combining multi-wavelength spectra. Thanks to the ordered velocity and temperature profiles in disks, we find that detailed constraints can be derived even with spatially and spectrally unresolved data -- provided a wide range of energy levels are sampled. We also employ high-spatial resolution interferometric images at (sub)mm frequencies using the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) to directly measure the radial distribution of volatiles.

For the second question, we combine volatile gas emission measurements with those of the dust continuum emission or extinction to understand dust growth mechanisms in disks and disk instabilities at planet-forming distances from the central star. Our observations and models support the idea that the water vapor can be concentrated in regions near its condensation front at certain evolutionary stages in the lifetime of protoplanetary disks, and that fast pebble growth is likely to occur near the condensation fronts of various volatile species.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:Astrochemistry, protoplanetary disks, planetary systems
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy
Major Option:Astrophysics
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Blake, Geoffrey A.
Group:Astronomy Department
Thesis Committee:
  • Hillenbrand, Lynne A. (chair)
  • Blake, Geoffrey A.
  • Carpenter, John M.
  • Stevenson, David John
  • Scoville, Nicholas Zabriskie
Defense Date:15 May 2015
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:05222015-173941425
Persistent URL:
Zhang, Ke0000-0002-0661-7517
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:8883
Deposited By: Ke Zhang
Deposited On:04 Jun 2015 22:54
Last Modified:08 Nov 2023 00:16

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