Vortices as nurseries for planetesimal formation in protoplanetary discs

Heng, Kevin ; Kenyon, Scott J.

In: Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 2010, vol. 408, no. 3, p. 1476-1493

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    Turbulent, two-dimensional, hydrodynamic flows are characterized by the emergence of coherent, long-lived vortices without a need to invoke special initial conditions. Vortices have the ability to sequester particles, with typical radii ∼1 mm to ∼10 cm, that are slightly decoupled from the gas. A generic feature of discs with surface density and effective temperature profiles that are decreasing, power-law functions of radial distance is that four vortex zones exist for a fixed particle size. In particular, two of the zones form an annulus at intermediate radial distances within which small particles reside. Particle capture by vortices occurs on a dynamical time-scale near and at the boundaries of this annulus. As the disc ages and the particles grow via coagulation, the size of the annulus shrinks. Older discs prefer to capture smaller particles because the gas surface density decreases with time, a phenomenon we term ‘vortex ageing'. More viscous, more dust-opaque and/or less massive discs can have vortices that age faster and trap a broader range of particle sizes throughout the lifetime of the disc. Thus, how efficiently a disc retains its mass in solids depends on the relative time-scales between coagulation and vortex ageing. If vortices form in protoplanetary discs, they are important in discs with typical masses and for particles that are likely to condense out of the protostellar nebula. Particle capture also occurs at distances relevant to planet formation. Future infrared, submillimetre and centimetre observations of grain opacity as a function of radial distance will test the hypothesis that vortices serve as nurseries for particle growth in protoplanetary discs