On the minimum core mass for giant planet formation at wide separations

Ana Maria A. Piso, Andrew N. Youdin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

110 Scopus citations


In the core accretion hypothesis, giant planets form by gas accretion onto solid protoplanetary cores. The minimum (or critical) core mass to form a gas giant is typically quoted as 10 M . The actual value depends on several factors: the location in the protoplanetary disk, atmospheric opacity, and the accretion rate of solids. Motivated by ongoing direct imaging searches for giant planets, this study investigates core mass requirements in the outer disk. To determine the fastest allowed rates of gas accretion, we consider solid cores that no longer accrete planetesimals, as this would heat the gaseous envelope. Our spherical, two-layer atmospheric cooling model includes an inner convective region and an outer radiative zone that matches onto the disk. We determine the minimum core mass for a giant planet to form within a typical disk lifetime of 3 Myr. The minimum core mass declines with disk radius, from ∼8.5 M at 5 AU to ∼3.5 M at 100 AU, with standard interstellar grain opacities. Lower temperatures in the outer disk explain this trend, while variations in disk density are less influential. At all distances, a lower dust opacity or higher mean molecular weight reduces the critical core mass. Our non-self-gravitating, analytic cooling model reveals that self-gravity significantly affects early atmospheric evolution, starting when the atmosphere is only ∼10% as massive as the core.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number21
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 1 2014


  • planets and satellites: atmospheres
  • planets and satellites: formation
  • planets and satellites: gaseous planets

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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