Observational properties of protoplanetary disk gaps

P Varniere, J E Bjorkman, A Frank, A C Quillen, A C Carciofi, B A Whitney, K Wood

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33 Citations (Scopus)


We study the effects of an annular gap induced by an embedded protoplanet on disk scattered light images and the infrared spectral energy distribution (SED). We find that the outer edge of a gap is brighter in the scattered light images than a similar location in a gap-free disk. The stellar radiation that would have been scattered by material within the gap is instead scattered by the disk wall at the outer edge of the gap, producing a bright ring surrounding the dark gap in the images. Given sufficient resolution, such gaps can be detected by the presence of this bright ring in scattered light images. A gap in a disk also changes the shape of the SED. Radiation that would have been absorbed by material in the gap is instead reprocessed by the outer gap wall. This leads to a decrease in the SED at wavelengths corresponding to the temperature at the radius of the missing gap material, and to a corresponding flux increase at longer wavelengths corresponding to the temperature of the outer wall. We note, however, that the presence of an annular gap does not change the bolometric IR flux; it simply redistributes the radiation previously produced by material within the gap to longer wavelengths. Although it will be difficult on the basis of the SED alone to distinguish between the presence of a gap and other physical effects, the level of changes can be sufficiently large to be measurable with current instruments (e.g., Spitzer).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)L125
Number of pages4
JournalAstrophysical Journal Letters
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2006


  • circumstellar matter
  • hydrodynamics
  • infrared : stars
  • planetary systems : protoplanetary disks
  • radiative transfer
  • stars : pre-main-sequence


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