Growth after the streaming instability. From planetesimal accretion to pebble accretion

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Context. Streaming instability is a key mechanism in planet formation, clustering pebbles into planetesimals with the help of self-gravity. It is triggered at a particular disk location where the local volume density of solids exceeds that of the gas. After their formation, planetesimals can grow into protoplanets by feeding from other planetesimals in the birth ring as well as by accreting inwardly drifting pebbles from the outer disk.

Aims. We aim to investigate the growth of planetesimals into protoplanets at a single location through streaming instability. For a solar-mass star, we test the conditions under which super-Earths are able to form within the lifetime of the gaseous disk.

Methods. We modified the Mercury N-body code to trace the growth and dynamical evolution of a swarm of planetesimals at a distance of 2.7 AU from the star. The code simulates gravitational interactions and collisions among planetesimals, gas drag, type I torque, and pebble accretion. Three distributions of planetesimal sizes were investigated: (i) a mono-dispersed population of 400 km radius planetesimals, (ii) a poly-dispersed population of planetesimals from 200 km up to 1000 km, (iii) a bimodal distribution with a single runaway body and a swarm of smaller, 100 km size planetesimals.

Results. The mono-dispersed population of 400 km size planetesimals cannot form protoplanets of a mass greater than that of the Earth. Their eccentricities and inclinations are quickly excited, which suppresses both planetesimal accretion and pebble accretion. Planets can form from the poly-dispersed and bimodal distributions. In these circumstances, it is the two-component nature that damps the random velocity of the large embryo through the dynamical friction of small planetesimals, allowing the embryo to accrete pebbles efficiently when it approaches 10−2 M⊕. Accounting for migration, close-in super-Earth planets form. Super-Earth planets are likely to form when the pebble mass flux is higher, the disk turbulence is lower, or the Stokes number of the pebbles is higher.

Conclusions. For the single site planetesimal formation scenario, a two-component mass distribution with a large embryo and small planetesimals promotes planet growth, first by planetesimal accretion and then by pebble accretion of the most massive protoplanet. Planetesimal formation at single locations such as ice lines naturally leads to super-Earth planets by the combined mechanisms of planetesimal accretion and pebble accretion.


External organisations
  • University of Amsterdam
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Astronomy, Astrophysics and Cosmology


  • methods: numerical, planets and satellites: formation, Astrophysics - Earth and Planetary Astrophysics
Original languageEnglish
Article numberA114
JournalAstronomy & Astrophysics
Publication statusPublished - 2019 Apr 22
Publication categoryResearch