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Spiral arms in scattered light images of protoplanetary discs: Are they the signposts of planets?



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Juhász, A 
Benisty, M 
Pohl, A 
Dullemond, CP 
Dominik, C 


One of the striking discoveries of protoplanetary disc research in recent years are the spiral arms seen in several transitional discs in polarized scattered light. An interesting interpretation of the observed spiral features is that they are density waves launched by one or more embedded (proto)planets in the disc. In this paper, we investigate whether planets can be held responsible for the excitation mechanism of the observed spirals. We use locally isothermal hydrodynamic simulations as well as analytic formulae to model the spiral waves launched by planets. Then H-band scattered light images are calculated using a 3D continuum radiative transfer code to study the effect of surface density and pressure scaleheight perturbation on the detectability of the spirals. We find that a relative change of ∼3.5 in the surface density (δΣ/Σ) is required for the spirals to be detected with current telescopes in the near-infrared for sources at the distance of typical star-forming regions (140 pc). This value is a factor of 8 higher than what is seen in hydrodynamic simulations. We also find that a relative change of only 0.2 in pressure scaleheight is sufficient to create detectable signatures under the same conditions. Therefore, we suggest that the spiral arms observed to date in protoplanetary discs are the results of changes in the vertical structure of the disc (e.g. pressure scaleheight perturbation) instead of surface density perturbations.



scattering, planet-disc interactions, protoplanetary discs, circumstellar matter, stars: formation, infrared: stars

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Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

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Oxford University Press (OUP)
This work has been supported by the DISCSIM project, grant agreement 341137 funded by the European Research Council under ERC-2013-ADG.