Fr.: disque protoplanétaire
A → circumstellar disk of gas and dust surrounding a → pre-main sequence star from which planetary systems form. Protoplanetary disks are remnants of → accretion disks which bring forth stars. Typically, their sizes are ~100-500 AU, masses ~10-2 solar masses, lifetimes ~106-107 years, and accretion rates ~10-7-10-8 solar masses per year. According to the standard theory of planet formation, called core accretion, planets come into being by the growth of → dust grains which stick together and produce ever larger bodies, known as → planetesimals. The agglomeration of these planetesimals of 100 to 1000 km in size into rocky Earth-mass planets is the main outcome of this theory. Beyond the → snow line in the disk, if the masses of these cores of rock and ice grow higher than 10 times that of Earth in less than a few million years, gas can rapidly accrete and give rise to giant gaseous planets similar to → Jupiter. If core building goes on too slowly, the disk gas dissipates before the formation of → giant planets can start. Finally the left-over planetesimals that could not agglomerate into rocky planets or core of giant planets remain as a → debris disk around the central object that has become a → main sequence star. An alternative to core accretion theory is formation of planets in a massive protoplanetary disk by → gravitational instabilities. The validity of these two theories is presently debated. See also → protoplanet.