Probing self-gravitating protostellar discs using smoothed particle hydrodynamics and radiative transfer
Forgan, Duncan Hugh
Stars are likely to form with non-zero initial angular momentum, and will consequently possess a substantial gaseous protostellar disc in the early phases of their evolution. At this early stage, the disc mass is expected to be comparable to the mass of the protostar. The disc’s self-gravity therefore plays an important role in the subsequent evolution of the system, regulating the accretion of matter onto the protostar, as well as being potentially capable of forming low mass stars and massive planets by disc fragmentation. The protostellar disc may later evolve into a protoplanetary disc, providing the feedstock for planet formation. Therefore, if the current stellar populations and exoplanetary systems are to be understood, an understanding of the evolution of protostellar discs is crucial, especially their earliest self-gravitating phases. I have used various methods of numerical simulation to probe the physics of self-gravitating protostellar discs and their constituents. When constructing a model for self-gravitating protostellar discs, including detailed thermodynamics and radiative transfer is essential. I have developed two distinct numerical techniques for incorporating radiative transfer into Smoothed Particle Hydrodynamics (SPH) simulations. The first allows the modelling of frequency-averaged radiative transfer during the SPH simulation, in effect approximating radiative SPH (RSPH) with only a marginal increase in runtime (around 6%). The second takes the output from SPH simulations, and creates synthetic, wavelength-dependent telescope images and spectra of SPH systems. This allows the direct construction of observables from SPH simulations, providing, for the first time, a direct connection between the output of SPH simulations and observations. I have used these numerical methods to analyse, in detail, the local angular momentum transport induced by self-gravity in protostellar discs, testing the robustness of the “pseudo-viscous” analytical approximation for local disc stresses. I confirm that semi-analytical disc modellers are justified in using the pseudo-viscous approximation in some cases, but I also outline the limits in which non-local transport effects causes the approximation to fail. Also, I have investigated the evolution of protostellar discs when perturbed by a secondary companion, in particular identifying whether such events will in general trigger a) a disc fragmentation event, or b) a stellar outburst event. For case a), I found no significant evidence that perturbation by a companion improves the possibility of disc fragmentation in compact discs - in case b), I found that stellar outburst events do indeed occur, but they are unlikely to be seen by observers due to their rare occurrence, as well as due to self-obscuration effects.