AAS 201st Meeting, January, 2003
Session 24. Planetary Systems I
Oral, Monday, January 6, 2003, 10:00-11:30am, 606-607

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[24.06D] Planet Embryos in Vortex Wombs

J. A. Barranco, P. S. Marcus (University of California, Berkeley)

One of the enduring puzzles in the formation of planetary systems is how millimeter-sized dust grains agglomerate to become kilometer-sized, self gravitating planetesimals, the "building blocks" of planets. One theory is that the dust grains settle into the mid-plane of the protoplanetary disk (thin, cool disk of gas and dust in orbit around a newly forming protostar) until they reach a critical density that triggers a gravitational instability to clumping. However, turbulence within the disk is likely to stir up the dust grains and prevent them from reaching this critical density. A competing theory is that dust grains grow by pair-wise collisions, forming fractal structures. It is unclear, however, how robust such structures would be to successive collisions. A new and exciting theory is that vortices in a protoplanetary disk may capture dust grains at their centers, "seeding" the formation of planetesimals. We are investigating the dynamics of 3D vortices in protoplanetary disks with a parallel spectral code on the Blue Horizon supercomputer. Some of the lingering questions we address are: What is the structure of 3D vortices in a protoplanetary disk? Are they columns that extend vertically through the disk, through many scale heights of pressure and density? Or are they more "pancake-like" and confined to the mid-plane? Are the vortices stable to small perturbations, such as vertical shear? Are 3D vortices robust and long-lived coherent structures? Do small vortices merge to form larger vortices the way vortices on Jupiter do?

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