Using numerical simulations to identify observational signatures of self-gravitating protostellar discs
In this thesis, I study numerical and semi-analytical models of self-gravitating protostellar discs, with the aim of furthering our understanding of the role of disc-self gravity in planet formation. At the time of writing, the ALMA era of observational astronomy is upon us. Therefore, I place my research into this context with synthetic images of both numerical and semi-analytical models. I begin with an examination into the apparent lack of convergence, with increasing resolution, of the fragmentation boundary in Smoothed Particle Hydrodynamics (SPH) simulations of a protostellar disc. I run a suite of SPH with different numerical implementations, and find that even very similar implementations can fundamentally change the final answer. I analyse a suite of SPH simulations that fragment to form gravitationally bound objects, with the motivation of informing future population synthesis model development. I find that fragment-fragment and fragment-disc interaction dominates the orbital evolution of the system even at very early times, and any attempt to produce a population of objects from the gravitational instability process must include these interactions. Before a disc fragments, it will go through a self-gravitating phase. If the disc cools globally on a timescale such that it is balanced by heating due to gravitational stresses, the disc will be in a state of quasi-equilibrium. So long as the disc mass is sufficiently low, and spirals are sufficiently tightly wound, then angular momentum transport can be described by the local approximation, for which there is an analytical description. Using this analytical description, I develop an existing 1D model into 3D, and examine a wide range of parameter space for which disc self-gravity produces significant non-axisymmetry. Using radiative transfer calculations coupled with synthetic observations, I determine that there is a very narrow range of parameter space in which a disc will have sufficiently large gravitational stresses so as to produce detectable spirals, but the stresses not be so large as to cause the disc to fragment. By developing a simple analytical prescription for dust, I show that this region of parameter space can be broadened considerably. However, it requires grains that are large enough to become trapped by pressure maxima in the disc, so I conclude that if self-gravitating spiral arms are detected in the continuum, it is likely that at least some grain growth has taken place.