Low-mass planets in protoplanetary disks with net vertical magnetic fields: The planetary wake and gap opening

Zhaohuan Zhu, James McLellan Stone, Roman R. Rafikov

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69 Scopus citations


Some regions in protoplanetary disks are turbulent, while some regions are quiescent (e.g. the dead zone). In order to study how planets open gaps in both inviscid hydrodynamic disk (e.g. the dead zone) and the disk subject to magnetorotational instability (MRI), we carried out both shearing box two-dimensional inviscid hydrodynamical simulations and three-dimensional unstratified magnetohydrodynamical (MHD) simulations (having net vertical magnetic fields) with a planet at the box center. We found that, due to the nonlinear wave steepening, even a low mass planet can open gaps in both cases, in contradiction to the "thermal criterion" for gap opening. In order to understand if we can represent the MRI turbulent stress with the viscous α prescription for studying gap opening, we compare gap properties in MRI-turbulent disks to those in viscous HD disks having the same stress, and found that the same mass planet opens a significantly deeper and wider gap in net vertical flux MHD disks than in viscous HD disks. This difference arises due to the efficient magnetic field transport into the gap region in MRI disks, leading to a larger effective α within the gap. Thus, across the gap, the Maxwell stress profile is smoother than the gap density profile, and a deeper gap is needed for the Maxwell stress gradient to balance the planetary torque density. Comparison with previous results from net toroidal flux/zero flux MHD simulations indicates that the magnetic field geometry plays an important role in the gap opening process. We also found that long-lived density features (termed zonal flows) produced by the MRI can affect planet migration. Overall, our results suggest that gaps can be commonly produced by low mass planets in realistic protoplanetary disks, and caution the use of a constant α-viscosity to model gaps in protoplanetary disks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number143
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 10 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • accretion, accretion disks
  • magnetohydrodynamics (MHD)
  • planetary systems
  • planets and satellites: formation
  • protoplanetary disks
  • stars: formation
  • stars: pre-main sequence
  • turbulence


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