EAS Publications Series
Volume 3, 2002Star Formation and the Physics of Young Stars: Summer school on Stellar Physics X
|Page(s)||183 - 202|
|Published online||25 September 2002|
J. Bouvier and J.-P. Zahn (eds)
EAS Publications Series, 3 (2002) 183-202
Accretion Disks around Young Stars: An Observational Perspective
Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope, Hawaii, USA
2 Institut d'Astrophysique, Paris, France
Accretion disks are pivotal elements in the formation and early evolution of solar-like stars. On top of supplying the raw material, their internal conditions also regulate the formation of planets. Their study therefore holds the key to solve this long standing mystery: how did our Solar System form? This chapter focuses on observational studies of the circumstellar environment, and in particular of circumstellar disks, associated with pre-main sequence solar-like stars. The direct measurement of disk parameters poses an obvious challenge: at the distance of the typical star forming regions ( e.g. ~140 pc for Taurus), a planetary system like ours (with diameter ≅50 AU out to Pluto, but excluding the Kuiper belt which could extend much farther out) subtends only 0.35''. Yet its surface brightness is low in comparison to the bright central star and high angular and high contrast imaging techniques are required if one hopes to resolve and measure these protoplanetary disks. Fortunately, capable instruments providing 0.1'' resolution or better and high contrast have been available for just about 10 years now. They are covering a large part of the electromagnetic spectrum, from the UV/Optical with HST and the near-infrared from ground-based adaptive optics systems, to the millimetric range with long-baseline radio interferometers. It is therefore not surprising that our knowledge of the structure of the disks surrounding low-mass stars has made a gigantic leap forward in the last decade. In the following pages we will attempt to describe, in a historical perpective, the road that led to the idea that most solar-like stars are surrounded by an accretion disk at one point in their early life and how, nowadays, their structural and physical parameters can be estimated from direct observations. We will follow by a short discussion of a few of the constraints available regarding the evolution and dissipation of these disks. This last topic is particularly relevant today to understand the mechanism leading to the formation of planets.
© EAS, EDP Sciences, 2002
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