Harvesting the decay energy of 26 Al to drive lightning discharge in protoplanetary discs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Chondrules in primitive meteorites likely formed by recrystallisation of dust aggregates that were flash-heated to nearly complete melting. Chondrules may represent the building blocks of rocky planetesimals and protoplanets in the inner regions of protoplanetary discs, but the source of ubiquitous thermal processing of their dust aggregate precursors remains elusive. Here we demonstrate that escape of positrons released in the decay of the short-lived radionuclide 26Al leads to a large-scale charging of dense pebble structures, resulting in neutralisation by lightning discharge and flash-heating of dust and pebbles. This charging mechanism is similar to a nuclear battery where a radioactive source charges a capacitor. We show that the nuclear battery effect operates in circumplanetesimal pebble discs. The extremely high pebble densities in such discs are consistent with conditions during chondrule heating inferred from the high abundance of sodium within chondrules. The sedimented mid-plane layer of the protoplanetary disc may also be prone to charging by the emission of positrons, if the mass density of small dust there is at least an order of magnitude above the gas density. Our results imply that the decay energy of 26Al can be harvested to drive intense lightning activity in protoplanetary discs. The total energy stored in positron emission is comparable to the energy needed to melt all solids in the protoplanetary disc. The efficiency of transferring the positron energy to the electric field nevertheless depends on the relatively unknown distribution and scale-dependence of pebble density gradients in circumplanetesimal pebble discs and in the protoplanetary disc mid-plane layer.

Details

Authors
Organisations
External organisations
  • Tokyo Institute of Technology
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Astronomy, Astrophysics and Cosmology

Keywords

  • Meteorites, meteors, meteoroids, Minor planets, asteroids: general, Planets and satellites: formation, Protoplanetary disks
Original languageEnglish
Article numberA31
JournalAstronomy and Astrophysics
Volume609
Publication statusPublished - 2018 Jan 1
Publication categoryResearch
Peer-reviewedYes