Planetesimal formation in self-gravitating discs




We study particle dynamics in local two-dimensional simulations of self-gravitating accretion discs with a simple cooling law. It is well known that the structure which arises in the gaseous component of the disc due to a gravitational instability can have a significant effect on the evolution of dust particles. Previous results using global simulations indicate that spiral density waves are highly efficient at collecting dust particles, creating significant local overdensities which may be able to undergo gravitational collapse. We expand on these findings using a range of cooling times to mimic the conditions at a large range of radii within the disc. Here we use the pencil code to solve the 2D local shearing sheet equations for gas on a fixed grid together with the equations of motion for solids coupled to the gas solely through aerodynamic drag force. We find that spiral density waves can create significant enhancements in the surface density of solids, equivalent to 1–10 cm sized particles in a disc following the profiles of Clarke around an ∼1 M star, causing it to reach concentrations several orders of magnitude larger than the particles mean surface density. We also study the velocity dispersion of the particles, finding that the spiral structure can result in the particle velocities becoming highly ordered, having a narrow velocity dispersion. This implies low relative velocities between particles, which in turn suggest that collisions are typically low energy, lessening the likelihood of grain destruction. Both these findings suggest that the density waves that arise due to gravitational instabilities in the early stages of star formation provide excellent sites for the formation of large, planetesimal-sized objects.