Formation of intermediate-mass planets via magnetically controlled disk fragmentation

Hongping Deng*, Lucio Mayer, Ravit Helled

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Intermediate-mass planets, from super-Earth to Neptune-sized bodies, are the most common types of planet in the Galaxy1. The prevailing theory of planet formation—core accretion2—predicts the existence of substantially fewer intermediate-mass giant planets than have been observed3,4. The competing mechanism for planet formation—disk instability—can produce massive gas giant planets on wide orbits, such as HR 87995, by direct fragmentation of the protoplanetary disk6. Previously, fragmentation in magnetized protoplanetary disks has been considered only when the magneto-rotational instability is the driving mechanism for magnetic field growth7. However, this instability is naturally superseded by the spiral-driven dynamo when more realistic, non-ideal magneto-hydrodynamic conditions are considered8,9. Here, we report on magneto-hydrodynamic simulations of disk fragmentation in the presence of a spiral-driven dynamo. Fragmentation leads to the formation of long-lived bound protoplanets with masses that are at least one order of magnitude smaller than in conventional disk instability models10,11. These light clumps survive shear and do not grow further owing to the shielding effect of the magnetic field, whereby magnetic pressure stifles the local inflow of matter. The outcome is a population of gaseous-rich planets with intermediate masses, while gas giants are found to be rarer, in qualitative agreement with the observed mass distribution of exoplanets.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)440-444
Number of pages5
JournalNature Astronomy
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2021
Externally publishedYes


FundersFunder number
Schweizerischer Nationalfonds zur Förderung der Wissenschaftlichen Forschung


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