DPS 35th Meeting, 1-6 September 2003
Session 35. Planet and Satellite Origins III
Poster, Highlighted on, Friday, September 5, 2003, 3:30-6:00pm, Sierra Ballroom I-II

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[35.04] Planet Embryos in Vortex Wombs

J.A. Barranco, P.S. Marcus (U.C. 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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Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society, 35 #4
© 2003. The American Astronomical Soceity.