Numerical Simulations of Giant Planetary Core Formation

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Ngo, Henry
giant planet formation , planet formation , gas giant , core accretion , LIPAD , simulations , numerical integration
In the widely accepted core accretion model of planet formation, small rocky and/or icy bodies (planetesimals) accrete to form protoplanetary cores. Gas giant planets are believed to have solid cores that must reach a critical mass, ∼10 Earth masses (ME), after which there is rapid inflow of gas from the gas disk. In order to accrete the gas giants’ massive atmospheres, this step must occur within the gas disk’s lifetime (1 − 10 million years). Numerical simulations of solid body accretion in the outer Solar System are performed using two integrators. The goal of these simulations is to investigate the effects of important dynamical processes instead of specifically recreating the formation of the Solar System’s giant planets. The first integrator uses the Symplectic Massive Body Algorithm (SyMBA) with a modification to allow for planetesimal fragmentation. Due to computational constraints, this code has some physical limitations, specifically that the planetesimals themselves cannot grow, so protoplanets must be seeded in the simulations. The second integrator, the Lagrangian Integrator for Planetary Accretion and Dynamics (LIPAD), is more computationally expensive. However, its treatment of planetesimals allows for growth of potential giant planetary cores from a disk consisting only of planetesimals. Thus, this thesis’ preliminary simulations use the first integrator to explore a wider range of parameters while the main simulations use LIPAD to further investigate some specific processes. These simulations are the first use of LIPAD to study giant planet formation and they identify a few important dynamical processes affecting core formation. Without any fragmentation, cores tend to grow to ∼2ME. When planetesimal fragmentation is included, the resulting fragments are easier to accrete and larger cores are formed (∼4ME). But, in half of the runs, the fragments force the entire system to migrate towards the Sun. In other half, outward migration via scattering off a large number of planetesimal helps the protoplanets grow and survive. However, in a preliminary set of simulations including protoplanetary fragmentation, very few collisions are found to result in accretion so it is difficult for any cores to form.
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