• accretion, accretion discs;
  • hydrodynamics;
  • instabilities;
  • planetary systems: formation


In this Letter, we show that if planetesimals form in spiral features in self-gravitating discs, as previously suggested by the idealized simulations of Rice et al., then in realistic protostellar discs, this process will be restricted to the outer regions of the disc (i.e. at radii in excess of several tens of au). This restriction relates to the requirement that dust has to be concentrated in spiral features on a time-scale that is less than the (roughly dynamical) lifetime of such features, and that such rapid accumulation requires spiral features whose fractional amplitude is not much less than unity. This in turn requires that the cooling time-scale of the gas is relatively short, which restricts the process to the outer disc. We point out that the efficient conversion of a large fraction of the primordial dust in the disc into planetesimals could rescue this material from the well-known problem of rapid inward migration at an approximate metre-size scale and that in principle the collisional evolution of these objects could help to resupply small dust to the protostellar disc. We also point out the possible implications of this scenario for the location of planetesimal belts inferred in debris discs around main sequence stars, but stress that further dynamical studies are required in order to establish whether the disc retains a memory of the initial site of planetesimal creation.