Saturday, October 14, 2017

Detecting Water's Dissociation in Protoplanetary Disks

The 1600 Angstrom Emission Bump in Protoplanetary Disks: A Spectral Signature of H2O Dissociation


France et al


The FUV continuum spectrum of many accreting pre-main sequence stars, Classical T Tauri Stars (CTTSs), does not continue smoothly from the well-studied Balmer continuum emission in the NUV, suggesting that additional processes contribute to the short-wavelength emission in these objects. The most notable spectral feature in the FUV continuum of some CTTSs is a broad emission approximately centered at 1600~\AA, which has been referred to as the "1600 A Bump". The origin of this feature remains unclear. We have assembled archival FUV spectra of 37 disk-hosting systems observed by the {\it Hubble Space Telescope}. Clear 1600 A Bump emission is observed above the smooth, underlying 1100-1800 A continuum spectrum in 19/37 Classical T Tauri disks in the HST sample, with the detection rate in transition disks (8/8) being much higher than in primordial or non-transition sources (11/29). We describe a spectral deconvolution analysis to separate the Bump (spanning 1490~--~1690 A) from the underlying FUV continuum, finding an average Bump luminosity, L(Bump7 x 10^{29} erg s^{-1}. We find that the 1600 A Bump is characterized by a peak wavelength of 1598.6 +/- 3.3 A.
Contrary to previous studies, we find that this feature is inconsistent with models of H2 excited by electron-impact. We show that this Bump emits roughly 10-80% of the total fluorescent H2 luminosity for stars with well-defined Bump features. Energetically, this suggests that the carrier of the 1600 A Bump emission is powered by Ly-a photons. We argue that the most likely mechanism is Ly-a-driven dissociation of H2O in the inner disk, r < 2 AU. We demonstrate that non-thermally populated H2O fragments can qualitatively account for the observed emission (discrete and continuum), and find that the average Ly-a-driven H2O dissociation rate is 1.7x 10^{42} water molecules s^{-1}.

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