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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Planetesimal growth through the accretion of small solids Hughes, Anna


The growth and migration of planetesimals in a young protoplanetary disk is fundamental to the planet formation process. However, in our modeling of early growth, there are a several processes that can inhibit smaller grains from growing to larger sizes, making growth beyond size scales of centimeters difficult. The observational data which are available ( e.g., relics from asteroids in our own solar system as well as gas lifetimes in other systems) suggest that early growth must be rapid. If a small number of 100-km-sized planetesimals do manage to form by some method such as streaming instability, then gas drag effects would enable such a body to efficiently accrete smaller solids from beyond its Hill sphere. This enhanced accretion cross-section, paired with dense gas and large populations of small solids enables a planet to grow at much faster rates. As the planetesimals accrete pebbles, they experience an additional angular momentum exchange, which could cause slow inward drift and a consequent back-reaction on growth rates. We present self-consistent hydrodynamic simulations with direct particle integration and gas-drag coupling to estimate the rate of planetesimal growth due to pebble accretion. We explore a range of particle sizes and disk conditions using a wind tunnel simulation. We also perform numerical analyses of planetesimal growth and drift rates for a range of distances from the star. The results of our models indicate that rapid growth of planeteismals under our assumed model must be at orbital distances inwards of 1 AU, and that at such distances centimeter-sized pebbles and larger are required for maximized accretion. We find that growth beyond 1 AU is possible under certain limited, optimized conditions.

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