A circumstellar disk is a torus, pancake or ring-shaped accumulation of matter composed of gas, dust, planetesimals, asteroids or collision fragments in orbit around a star. Around the youngest stars, they are the reservoirs of material out of which planets may form. Around mature stars, they indicate that planetesimal formation has taken place and around white dwarfs, they indicate that planetary material survived the whole of stellar evolution. Such a disk can manifest itself in various ways.
According to the currently accepted model of star formation, sometimes referred to as the nebular hypothesis, a star is formed by the gravitational collapse of a pocket of matter within a giant molecular cloud. The infalling material possesses some amount of angular momentum, which results in the formation of a gaseous protoplanetary disk around the young, rotating star. The former is a rotating circumstellar disk of dense gas and dust that continues to feed the central star. It may contain a few percent of the mass of the central star, mainly in the form of gas which is itself mainly hydrogen. The accretion disk phase lasts a few to 10 million years. Accretion rates are typically 10−7 to 10−9 solar masses per year but can vary.
The disk gradually cools in what is known as the T tauri star stage. Within this disk, the formation of small dust grains made of rocks and ices can occur, and these can coagulate into planetesimals. If the disk is sufficiently massive, the runaway accretions begin, resulting in the appearance of planetary embryos. The formation of planetary systems is thought to be a natural result of star formation. A sun-like star usually takes around 100 million years to form.
Circumstellar disks around the Solar System
- Asteroid belt is a reservoir of small bodies in our Solar System located between the orbit of Mars and Jupiter. It is a source of interplanetary dust.
- Edgeworth-Kuiper belt
- Scattered disc
- Öpik-Oort cloud / Hills Cloud, only the inner Oort cloud has a toroid-like shape. The outer Oort cloud is more spherical in shape.
- Circumprimary disk, is where a disk orbits the primary (i.e. more massive) star of the binary star system.
- Circumsecondary disk is one around the secondary (i.e. less massive) star of the binary star system.
- Circumbinary disk, is where a disk orbits both the primary and the secondary of the binary system.
- Debris disk consists of planetesimals along with fine dust and small amounts of gas generated through their collisions and evaporation. The original gas and small dust particles have been dispersed or accumulated into planets.
- Zodiacal cloud or interplanetary dust is the material in the Solar System created by collisions of asteroids and evaporation of comet seen to observers on Earth as a band of scattered light along the ecliptic before sunrise or after sunset.
- Exozodiacal dust is dust around another star than the Sun in a location analogous to that of the Zodiacal Light in our own Solar System.
- Discovery of a New Companion and Evidence of a Circumprimary Disk: Adaptive Optics Imaging of the Young Multiple System VW Chamaeleon, Brandeker, Alexis et al. 2001
- Klahr, Hubert; Brandner, Wolfgang (2006). Planet Formation. Cambridge University Press. p. 25. ISBN 0-521-86015-6.