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Global models of planet formation and evolution

  • C. Mordasini (a1), P. Mollière (a2), K.-M. Dittkrist (a1), S. Jin (a1) (a2) and Y. Alibert (a3) (a4)...

Abstract

Despite the strong increase in observational data on extrasolar planets, the processes that led to the formation of these planets are still not well understood. However, thanks to the high number of extrasolar planets that have been discovered, it is now possible to look at the planets as a population that puts statistical constraints on theoretical formation models. A method that uses these constraints is planetary population synthesis where synthetic planetary populations are generated and compared to the actual population. The key element of the population synthesis method is a global model of planet formation and evolution. These models directly predict observable planetary properties based on properties of the natal protoplanetary disc, linking two important classes of astrophysical objects. To do so, global models build on the simplified results of many specialized models that address one specific physical mechanism. We thoroughly review the physics of the sub-models included in global formation models. The sub-models can be classified as models describing the protoplanetary disc (of gas and solids), those that describe one (proto)planet (its solid core, gaseous envelope and atmosphere), and finally those that describe the interactions (orbital migration and N-body interaction). We compare the approaches taken in different global models, discuss the links between specialized and global models, and identify physical processes that require improved descriptions in future work. We then shortly address important results of planetary population synthesis like the planetary mass function or the mass–radius relationship. With these statistical results, the global effects of physical mechanisms occurring during planet formation and evolution become apparent, and specialized models describing them can be put to the observational test. Owing to their nature as meta models, global models depend on the results of specialized models, and therefore on the development of the field of planet formation theory as a whole. Because there are important uncertainties in this theory, it is likely that the global models will in future undergo significant modifications. Despite these limitations, global models can already now yield many testable predictions. With future global models addressing the geophysical characteristics of the synthetic planets, it should eventually become possible to make predictions about the habitability of planets based on their formation and evolution.

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