Research outcomes:
ApJ paper: On Shocks Driven by High-mass Planets in Radiatively Inefficient Disks. I. Two-dimensional Global Disk Simulations (Richert et al. 2015)
ApJ paper: On Shocks Driven by High-mass Planets in Radiatively Inefficient Disks. II. Three-dimensional Global Disk Simulations (Lyra et al. 2016)
Talk slides: Modeling the observational signatures of planets in circumstellar disks (Spring 2016)

I am collaborating with Dr. Wladimir Lyra on hydrodynamical simulations of protoplanetary disks. So far, we have examined the interactions between protoplanetary disks and embedded massive planets (i.e. we assume these planets to have already formed). Results from such studies have implications for observations of these systems, and also make predictions about the observed properties of mature planetary systems (“mature” in this case meaning after several million years when the gas of the disk has been depleted due to stellar accretion and evaporation).
Using the Pencil Code, we performed an ensemble of simulations to explore the dynamics of planet–disk interactions. While this general problem has been under study for many years, no single simulation or small ensemble of simulations can incorporate all of the physical phenomena at play in disks (due to the limits both of modern computing power and the human brain— no code currently exists that could hope to achieve this task). Massive protoplanets (around Jupiter-size and larger) create shocks in the gas of their disks due to their strong gravitational pull, however typically computer models have made use of the locally isothermal approximation for the gas, meaning that the temperature of each parcel of gas in the disk does not change. Any heating due to shocks will therefore not be observed in such simulations, along with any resulting effects on the global structure of the disk.

Our simulations with the Pencil Code suggest that the effect of shock heating due to interactions between massive protoplanets and disks is potentially significant, which has implications both for observations of these systems and for our understandings of the evolution of planets and disks. Our 3D results (Lyra et al. 2016) show that the effect of shock heating is not as stark as in the 2D case, but nonetheless the spiral shocks induced by a massive planet are an appreciable source of energy in the disk.