Pebble-driven planet formation for TRAPPIST-1 and other compact systems

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Recently, seven Earth-sized planets were discovered around the M-dwarf star TRAPPIST-1. Thanks to transit-timing variations, the masses and therefore the bulk densities of the planets have been constrained, suggesting that all TRAPPIST-1 planets are consistent with water mass fractions on the order of 10%. These water fractions, as well as the similar planet masses within the system, constitute strong constraints on the origins of the TRAPPIST-1 system. In a previous work, we outlined a pebble-driven formation scenario. In this paper we investigate this formation scenario in more detail. We used a Lagrangian smooth-particle method to model the growth and drift of pebbles and the conversion of pebbles to planetesimals through the streaming instability. We used the N-body code MERCURY to follow the composition of planetesimals as they grow into protoplanets by merging and accreting pebbles. This code is adapted to account for pebble accretion, type-I migration, and gas drag. In this way, we modelled the entire planet formation process (pertaining to planet masses and compositions, not dynamical configuration). We find that planetesimals form in a single, early phase of streaming instability. The initially narrow annulus of planetesimals outside the snowline quickly broadens due to scattering. Our simulation results confirm that this formation pathway indeed leads to similarly-sized planets and is highly efficient in turning pebbles into planets. Our results suggest that the innermost planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system grew mostly by planetesimal accretion at an early time, whereas the outermost planets were initially scattered outwards and grew mostly by pebble accretion. The water content of planets resulting from our simulations is on the order of 10%, and our results predict a "V-shaped" trend in the planet water fraction with orbital distance: from relatively high (innermost planets) to relatively low (intermediate planets) to relatively high (outermost planets).


  • Djoeke Schoonenberg
  • Beibei Liu
  • Chris W. Ormel
  • Caroline Dorn
External organisations
  • University of Zurich
  • University of Amsterdam
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Astronomy, Astrophysics and Cosmology


  • Accretion, accretion disks, Methods: numerical, Planets and satellites: formation, Protoplanetary disks, Turbulence
Original languageEnglish
Article numberA149
JournalAstronomy and Astrophysics
Publication statusPublished - 2019 Jul
Publication categoryResearch