The distribution of accretion rates as a diagnostic of protoplanetary disc evolution
We show that the distribution of observed accretion rates is a powerful diagnostic of protoplanetary disc physics. Accretion due to turbulent (“viscous”) transport of angular momentum results in a fundamentally different distribution of accretion rates than accretion driven by magnetised disc winds. We find that a homogeneous sample of ≳300 observed accretion rates would be sufficient to distinguish between these two mechanisms of disc accretion at high confidence, even for pessimistic assumptions. Current samples of T Tauri star accretion rates are not this large, and also suffer from significant inhomogeneity, so both viscous and wind-driven models are broadly consistent with the existing observations. If accretion is viscous, the observed accretion rates require low rates of disc photoevaporation (≲ 10−9 M⊙yr−1). Uniform, homogeneous surveys of stellar accretion rates can therefore provide a clear answer to the long-standing question of how protoplanetary discs accrete.
Author affiliationSchool of Physics & Astronomy, University of Leicester
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