Observing protoplanetary discs with the Square Kilometre Array - I. Characterizing pebble substructure caused by forming planets

John D. Ilee, Cassandra Hall, Catherine Walsh, Izaskun Jiménez-Serra, Christophe Pinte, Jason Terry, Tyler L. Bourke, Melvin Hoare

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11 Citations (Scopus)


High-angular-resolution observations of discs at mm wavelengths (on scales of a few AU) are now commonplace, but there is a current lack of a comparable angular resolution for observations at cm wavelengths. This presents a significant barrier to improving our understanding of planet formation, in particular how dust grains grow from mm to cm sizes. In this paper, we examine the ability of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) to observe dust substructure in a young, planet-forming disc at cm wavelengths. We use dusty hydrodynamics and continuum radiative transfer to predict the distribution and emission of 1-cm dust grains (or pebbles) within the disc, and simulate continuum observations with the current SKA1-MID design baseline at frequencies of 12.5 GHz (Band 5b, ∼2.4 cm) on 5-10 AU scales. The SKA will provide high-fidelity observations of the cm dust emission substructure in discs for integration times totalling hundreds of hours. Radial structure can be obtained at a sufficient resolution and S/N from shorter (tens of hours) integration times by azimuthal averaging in the image plane. By modelling the intensity distribution directly in the visibility plane, it is possible to recover a similar level of (axisymmetric) structural detail from observations with integration times one to two orders of magnitude lower than required for high-fidelity imaging. Our results demonstrate that SKA1-MID will provide crucial constraints on the distribution and morphology of the raw material for building planets, the pebbles in protoplanetary discs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5116-5127
Number of pages12
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2020


  • Planet-disc interactions
  • Planets and satellites: formation
  • Protoplanetary discs
  • Radio continuum: planetary systems
  • Stars: pre-main-sequence

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