Long-term evolution of protostellar and protoplanetary disks. I. Outbursts

Zhaohuan Zhu, Lee Hartmann, Charles F. Gammie, Laura G. Book, Jacob B. Simon, Eric Engelhard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


As an initial investigation into the long-term evolution of protostellar disks, we explore the conditions required to explain the large outbursts of disk accretion seen in some young stellar objects. We use one-dimensional time-dependent disk models with a phenomenological treatment of the magnetorotational instability (MRI) and gravitational torques to follow disk evolution over long timescales. Comparison with our previous two-dimensional disk model calculations indicates that the neglect of radial effects and two-dimensional disk structure in the one-dimensional case makes only modest differences in the results; this allows us to use the simpler models to explore parameter space efficiently. We find that the mass infall rates typically estimated for low-mass protostars generally result in AU-scale disk accretion outbursts, as predicted by our previous analysis. We also confirm quasi-steady accretion behavior for high mass infall rates if the values of α-parameter for the MRI are small, while at this high accretion rate convection from the thermal instability may lead to some variations. We further constrain the combinations of the α-parameter and the MRI critical temperature, which can reproduce observed outburst behavior. Our results suggest that dust sublimation may be connected with full activation of the MRI. This is consistent with the idea that small dust captures ions and electrons to suppress the MRI. In a companion paper, we will explore both long-term outburst and disk evolution with this model, allowing for infall from protostellar envelopes with differing angular momenta.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1134-1142
Number of pages9
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2010


  • Accretion
  • Accretion disks
  • Stars: formation
  • Stars: pre-main sequence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science

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