Impact of an inhomogeneous density distribution on selected observational characteristics of circumstellar disks
University of Kiel, Institute of Theoretical Physics and Astrophysics, Leibnizstrasse 15 24118 Kiel Germany
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Received: 5 May 2015
Accepted: 27 October 2015
Context. Analysis of observations of circumstellar disks around young stellar objects is often based on disk models with smooth and continuous density distribution. However, spatially resolved observations with increasing angular resolution and dynamical models indicate that circumstellar disks are highly structured.
Aims. We investigate the influence of different clumpy density distributions on selected physical properties and on the observable characteristics of circumstellar disks. In particular, these are the temperature distribution, the spectral energy distribution (SED), the radial brightness profile and the degree of polarization of scattered stellar radiation.
Methods. Based on radiative transfer modeling we calculated the temperature structure of the disk and simulate observational quantities in the thermal re-emission and scattering regime. The clumpy density distributions are realized using a two-phase medium approach with phases for the clumps and the medium in between. We compared our results to those obtained for a smooth and continuous density distribution to quantify the influence of clumps on internal physical parameters and observable quantities of circumstellar disks.
Results. Within the considered model space, the clumpiness has a significant impact on the disk temperature distribution. For instance, in the transition region from the optically thin upper disk layers to the disk interior, it causes a decrease in the mean temperature by up to 12 K (corresponding to ~15%), if compared to continuous disks. In addition, circumstellar disks with clumpy density distributions generally feature a lower spectral index in the submm/mm range of the SED than continuous disks. The strength of this decrease can be varied by changing the dust mass or grain size, but not by changing the inclination of the disk. As a consequence of the lower spectral index, the dust grain size derived from the submm/mm-slope of the SED may be overestimated, if the inhomogeneity of the disk density distribution is not taken into account. Furthermore, the scattered light brightness distribution of clumpy disks shows a steeper radial decrease than in the case of continuous disks. The azimuthal variations in the scattered flux, resulting from inhomogeneous density distributions, have their maximum at the medium radial extent of the disks. Additionally, clumpy density distributions change the degree of polarization of the scattered light in the optical compared to continuous disks. The quantitative level of this variation increases with the optical depth of the clumps.
Key words: protoplanetary disks / circumstellar matter / stars: pre-main sequence / radiative transfer / dust, extinction / polarization
© ESO, 2015