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Physics and Astronomy
Completed Project

The Correlation Between HCN/H2O Flux Ratios and Disk Mass: Evidence of Protoplanet Formation

Caitlin Rose ’17 and Colette Salyk (Astronomy)

We analyze hydrogen cyanide (HCN) and water vapor flux ratios in protoplanetary disks as a way to trace planet formation. Analyzing only disks in the Taurus molecular cloud, Najita et al. (2013) found a tentative correlation between protoplanetary disk mass and the HCN/H2O line flux ratio in Spitzer-IRS emission spectra. They interpret this correlation to be a consequence of more massive disks forming planetesimals more efficiently than smaller disks, as the formation of large planetesimals may lock up water ice in the cool outer disk region and prevent it from migrating, drying out the inner disk. The sequestering of water (and therefore oxygen) in the outer disk may also increase the carbon-to-oxygen ratio in the inner disk, leading to enhanced organic molecule (e.g. HCN) emission. To confirm this trend, we expand the Najita et al. sample by calculating HCN/H2O line flux ratios for 8 more sources with known disk masses from clusters besides Taurus. We find agreement with the Najita et al. trend, suggesting that this is a widespread phenomenon. In addition, we find HCN/H2O line flux ratios for 18 more sources that await disk mass measurements, which should become commonplace in the ALMA era. Finally, we investigate linear fits and outliers to this trend, and discuss possible causes.