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Accretion Disks and the Formation of Stellar Systems

Kaitlan Michelle Kratter

Doctor of Philosophy 2010
Graduate Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, University of Toronto

In this thesis, we examine the role of accretion disks in the formation of stellar systems, focusing on young massive disks which regulate the flow of material from the parent molecular core down to the star. We study the evolution of disks with high infall rates that develop strong gravitational instabilities. We begin in chapter 1 with a review of the observations and theory which underpin models for the earliest phases of star formation and provide a brief review of basic accretion disk physics, and the numerical methods that we employ. In chapter 2 we outline the current models of binary and multiple star formation, and review their successes and shortcomings from a theoretical and observational perspective. In chapter 3 we begin with a relatively simple analytic model for disks around young, high mass stars, showing that instability in these disks may be responsible for the higher multiplicity fraction of massive stars, and perhaps the upper mass to which they grow. We extend these models in chapter 4 to explore the properties of disks and the formation of binary companions across a broad range of stellar masses. In particular, we model the role of global and local mechanisms for angular momentum transport in regulating the relative masses of disks and stars. We follow the evolution of these disks throughout the main accretion phase of the system, and predict the trajectory of disks through parameter space. We follow up on the predictions made in our analytic models with a series of high resolution, global numerical experiments in chapter 5. Here we propose and test a new parameterization for describing rapidly accreting, gravitationally unstable disks. We find that disk properties and system multiplicity can be mapped out well in this parameter space. Finally, in chapter 6, we address whether our studies of unstable disks are relevant to recently detected massive planets on wide orbits around their central stars.

Reproduced with permission. library@astro.utoronto.ca
July 19, 2010