Massive planets in FU Orionis discs: implications for thermal instability models



FU Orionis are young stellar objects undergoing episodes of enhanced luminosity, which are generally ascribed to a sudden increase of mass accretion rate in the surrounding protostellar disc. Models invoking a thermal instability in the disc are able to reproduce many features of the outburst, but cannot explain the rapid rise time-scale observed in many cases. Here we explore the possibility (originally suggested by Clarke and Syer) that the thermal instability is triggered away from the disc inner edge (at a distance of ≈10 R from the central protostar) due to the presence of a massive planet embedded in the disc. We have constructed simple, one-dimensional, time-dependent models of the disc evolution, taking into account both the interaction between the disc and the planet, and the thermal evolution of the disc. We are indeed able to reproduce rapid rise outbursts (with rise time-scale ≈1 yr), with a planet mass Ms= 10–15 MJupiter. We show that the luminosity and the duration of the outbursts are increasing functions of planet mass. We also show that the inward migration of the planet is significantly slowed once it reaches the radius where it is able to trigger FU Orionis outbursts, thus suggesting that a single planet may be involved in triggering several outbursts.