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Published March 10, 2012 | Published
Journal Article Open

On the Nature of the Transition Disk Around LkCa 15


We present Combined Array for Research in Millimeter-wave Astronomy 1.3 mm continuum observations of the T Tauri star LkCa 15, which resolve the circumstellar dust continuum emission on angular scales between 0"2 and 3", corresponding to 28-420 AU at the distance of the star. The observations resolve the inner gap in the dust emission and reveal an asymmetric dust distribution in the outer disk. By comparing the observations with theoretical disk models, we calculate that 90% of the dust emission arises from an azimuthally symmetric ring that contains about 5 × 10^(–4) M_☉ of dust. A low surface-brightness tail that extends to the northwest out to a radius of about 300 AU contains the remaining 10% of the observed continuum emission. The ring is modeled with a rather flat surface density profile between 40 and 120 AU, while the inner cavity is consistent with either a sharp drop of the 1.3 mm dust optical depth at about 42 AU or a smooth inward decrease between 3 and 85 AU. We show that early science Atacama Large Millimeter Array observations will be able to disentangle these two scenarios. Within 40 AU, the observations constrain the amount of dust between 10^(–6) and 7 Earth masses, where the minimum and maximum limits are set by the near-infrared spectral energy distribution modeling and by the millimeter-wave observations of the dust emission, respectively. In addition, we confirm the discrepancy in the outer disk radius inferred from the dust and gas, which corresponds to 150 AU and 900 AU, respectively. We cannot reconcile this difference by adopting an exponentially tapered surface density profile as suggested for other systems, but we instead suggest that the gas surface density in the outer disk decreases less steeply than that predicted by model fits to the dust continuum emission. The lack of continuum emission at radii larger than 120 AU suggests a drop of at least a factor of five in the dust-to-gas ratio or in the dust opacity. We show that a sharp dust opacity drop of this magnitude is consistent with a radial variation of the grain size distribution as predicted by existing grain growth models.

Additional Information

© 2012 American Astronomical Society. Received 2011 September 19; accepted 2011 December 22; published 2012 February 23. We thank the OVRO/CARMA staff and the CARMA observers for their assistance in obtaining the data. Support for CARMA construction was derived from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the Kenneth T. and Eileen L. Norris Foundation, the James S. McDonnell Foundation, the Associates of the California Institute of Technology, the University of Chicago, the states of California, Illinois, and Maryland, and the National Science Foundation. Ongoing CARMA development and operations are supported by the National Science Foundation under a cooperative agreement, and by the CARMA partner universities. We acknowledge support from the Owens Valley Radio Observatory, which is supported by the National Science Foundation through grant AST 05-40399. This work was performed in part under contract with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) funded by NASA through the Michelson Fellowship Program. JPL is managed for NASA by the California Institute of Technology. L.M.P. acknowledges support for graduate studies through a Fulbright-CONICYT scholarship.

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