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

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Direct imaging observations have revealed spiral structures in protoplanetary disks. Previous studies have suggested that planet-induced spiral arms cannot explain some of these spiral patterns, due to the large pitch angle and high contrast of the spiral arms in observations. We have carried out three-dimensional (3D) hydrodynamical simulations to study spiral wakes/shocks excited by young planets. We find that, in contrast with linear theory, the pitch angle of spiral arms does depend on the planet mass, which can be explained by the nonlinear density wave theory. A secondary (or even a tertiary) spiral arm, especially for inner arms, is also excited by a massive planet. With a more massive planet in the disk, the excited spiral arms have larger pitch angle and the separation between the primary and secondary arms in the azimuthal direction is also larger. We also find that although the arms in the outer disk do not exhibit much vertical motion, the inner arms have significant vertical motion, which boosts the density perturbation at the disk atmosphere. Combining hydrodynamical models with Monte-Carlo radiative transfer calculations, we find that the inner spiral arms are considerably more prominent in synthetic near-IR images using full 3D hydrodynamical models than images based on two-dimensional models assuming vertical hydrostatic equilibrium, indicating the need to model observations with full 3D hydrodynamics. Overall, companion-induced spiral arms not only pinpoint the companion's position but also provide three independent ways (pitch angle, separation between two arms, and contrast of arms) to constrain the companion's mass.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number88
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Nov 10 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • accretion, accretion disks
  • planet-disk interactions
  • protoplanetary disks
  • stars: protostars


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