Observational signatures of planets in protoplanetary disks II: Spiral arms observed in scattered light imaging can be induced by planets

Ruobing Dong, Zhaohuan Zhu, Roman R. Rafikov, James McLellan Stone

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180 Scopus citations


Using 3D global hydro simulations coupled with radiative transfer calculations, we study the appearance of density waves induced by giant planets in direct imaging observations at near-infrared wavelengths. We find that a 6Mj planet in a typical disk around a 1M star can produce prominent and detectable spiral arms both interior and exterior to its orbit. The inner arms have (1) two well separated arms in roughly m = 2 symmetry, (2) exhibit ∼10°-15° pitch angles, (3) ∼180°-270° extension in the azimuthal direction, and (4) ~150% surface brightness enhancement, all broadly consistent with observed spiral arms in the SAO 206462 and MWC 758 systems. The outer arms cannot explain observations as they are too tightly wound given typical disk scale height. We confirm previous results that the outer density waves excited by a 1MJ planet exhibit low contrast in the IR and are practically not detectable. We also find that 3D effects of the waves are important. Compared to isothermal models, density waves in adiabatic disks exhibit weaker contrast in surface density but stronger contrast in scattered light images, due to a more pronounced vertical structure in the former caused by shock heating and maybe hydraulic jump effect. To drive observed pairs of arms with an external companion on a circular orbit, a massive planet, possibly a brown dwarf, is needed at around [r ~ 0.″7, PA ~ 10°] (position angle PA from north to east) in SAO 206462 and [r ~ 0.″6, PA ~ 10°] in MWC 758. Their existence may be confirmed by direct imaging planet searches.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberL5
JournalAstrophysical Journal Letters
Issue number1
StatePublished - Aug 10 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • circumstellar matter
  • planet-disk interactions
  • planets and satellites: formation
  • protoplanetary disks
  • radiative transfer
  • stars: variables: T Tauri, Herbig Ae Be


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