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Star and Planet Formation Through Cosmic Time

  • Author(s): Lee, Aaron Thomas;
  • Advisor(s): McKee, Christopher F;
  • et al.

The computational advances of the past several decades have allowed theoretical astrophysics to proceed at a dramatic pace. Numerical simulations can now simulate the formation of individual molecules all the way up to the evolution of the entire universe. Observational astrophysics is producing data at a prodigious rate, and sophisticated analysis techniques of large data sets continue to be developed. It is now possible for terabytes of data to be effectively turned into stunning astrophysical results. This is especially true for the field of star and planet formation. Theorists are now simulating the formation of individual planets and stars, and observing facilities are finally capturing snapshots of these processes within the Milky Way galaxy and other galaxies. While a coherent theory remains incomplete, great strides have been made toward this goal.

This dissertation discusses several projects that develop models of star and planet forma- tion. This work spans large spatial and temporal scales: from the AU-scale of protoplanetary disks all the way up to the parsec-scale of star-forming clouds, and taking place in both contemporary environments like the Milky Way galaxy and primordial environments at redshifts of z~20.

Particularly, I show that planet formation need not proceed in incremental stages, where planets grow from millimeter-sized dust grains all the way up to planets, but instead can proceed directly from small dust grains to large kilometer-sized boulders. The requirements for this model to operate effectively are supported by observations. Additionally, I draw suspicion toward one model for how you form high mass stars (stars with masses exceeding ∼ 8 Msun), which postulates that high-mass stars are built up from the gradual accretion of mass from the cloud onto low-mass stars. I show that magnetic fields in star forming clouds thwart this transfer of mass, and instead it is likely that high mass stars are created from the gravitational collapse of large clouds. This work also provides a sub-grid model for computational codes that employ sink particles accreting from magnetized gas. Finally, I analyze the role that radiation plays in determining the final masses of the first stars to ever form in the universe. These stars formed in starkly different environments than stars form in today, and the role of the direct radiation from these stars turns out to be a crucial component of primordial star formation theory.

These projects use a variety of computational tools, including the use of spectral hydrodynamics codes, magneto-hydrodynamics grid codes that employ adaptive mesh refinement techniques, and long characteristic ray tracing methods. I develop and describe a long characteristic ray tracing method for modeling hydrogen-ionizing radiation from stars. Additionally, I have developed Monte Carlo routines that convert hydrodynamic data used in smoothed particle hydrodynamics codes for use in grid-based codes. Both of these advances will find use beyond simulations of star and planet formation and benefit the astronomical community at large.

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