This thesis presents a study of protoplanetary discs around young, low mass protostars. Such discs are believed to be massive enough to develop gravitational instabilities, which subsequently form spiral structures. The dynamical and chemical evolutions of a protosolar-like, gravitationally unstable disc are explored and the spiral structure in the disc is found to shock-heat material. This affects the chemical composition via enhanced desorption rates and endothermic reaction rates and through global mixing of the disc. As a result, the gravitational instability in the model disc leads to transient and permanent changes in the disc chemistry, and also provides a chemically-rich midplane in contrast to simulations of more evolved discs. Secondly, radiative transfer calculations are performed for the dust continuum, and model-tailored grid construction is found to improve the accuracy of the resultant flux images. Continuum observations of the model disc are synthesised and the spiral structure (driven by the gravitational instability) is shown to be readily detectable with ALMA across a range of frequencies, disc inclinations and dust opacities. The derivation of disc mass from the observed flux densities is explored but the method commonly utilised is found to be unreliable and underestimate the disc mass. Therefore, it is concluded that gravitational instabilities could be retrospectively validated in discs previously thought not massive enough to be self-gravitating. Finally, radiative transfer calculations are performed for molecular line transitions. Methods for improving the accuracy of line flux images are explored and the validity of assuming local thermodynamic equilibrium is assessed. Observations of the line fluxes are synthesised without noise and the spiral structure is found to be traced to an extent by all transitions considered, which is not necessarily congruent with the underlying distribution of the molecular species. The disc is seen in absorption in all transitions considered, due to the global mixing of the disc, which suggests absorption features could be a signature of gravitational instability in young protoplanetary discs. The sensitivities required to detect flux originating in spiral features are determined and it is found that a dedicated observation with ALMA should be capable of spatially resolving spiral structure in a Class 0 disc. Whether the spiral structure can be also be determined from spectral features is explored, which is shown to only be reliable with PV diagrams of nearly edge-on discs. The derivation of protostellar mass from PV diagrams is also explored and found to most likely be unreliable for gravitationally unstable discs.
- Pub Date:
- February 2018