The clearing of discs around late-type T Tauri stars: constraints from the infrared two-colour plane




We have undertaken spectral energy distribution (SED) modelling of discs around low-mass T Tauri stars in order to delineate regions of the infrared two-colour plane (K−[8] versus K−[24]) that correspond to discs in different evolutionary stages. This provides a tool for classifying the nature of star–disc systems based on infrared photometry. In particular, we demonstrate the distinct loci followed by discs that undergo ‘uniform draining’ (reduction in surface density by a spatially uniform factor) from those that clear from the inside-out. We draw attention to the absence of objects on this ‘draining locus’ in those star-forming regions where the 24 -μm sensitivity would permit their detection, as compared with the ∼20 objects in these regions with colours suggestive of inner holes. We thus conclude that discs predominantly clear from the inside-out. We also apply our classification of the infrared two-colour plane to stars of spectral types M3–M5 in the IC 348 cluster and show that some of its members (dubbed ‘weak excess’ sources by Muzerolle et al.) that had previously been assumed to be in a state of clearing are instead likely to be optically thick discs in which the dust is well settled towards the mid-plane. Nevertheless, there are many discs in a state of partial clearing in IC 348, with their abundance (relative to the total population of disc bearing stars) being around four times higher than for comparable stars in Taurus. However, the number of partially cleared discs relative to the total number of late-type stars is similarly low in both regions (10 and 20 per cent, respectively). We therefore conclude that IC 348 represents a more evolved version of the Taurus population (with more of its discs being highly settled or partially cleared) but that the time-scale for clearing is similarly short (a few times 105 yr) in both cases.