Young, gas-rich proto-planetary disks orbiting around solar-type young stars represent a crucial phase in disk evolution and planetary formation. Of particular relevance is to observationally track the evolution of the gas, which governs the overall evolution of the disk and is eventually dispersed. However, the bulk of the mass resides in the plane, which is so cold and dense that virtually all heavy-element-bearing molecules freeze out onto the dust grains and disappear from the gas phase. In this paper, we show that the ground-state ortho-H2D+ transition is the best, if not the only, tracer of the disk-plane gas. We report the theoretical models of the chemical structure of the plane of the disk, where the deuterated forms of , including H2D+, play a major role. We also compare the theoretical predictions with the observations obtained towards the disk of the young star DM Tau and show that the ionization rate is probably enhanced there, perhaps owing to the penetration of X-rays from the central object through the disk plane. We conclude by remarking that the ground-state ortho-H2D+ transition is such a powerful diagnostic that it may also reveal the matter in the dark halos of external galaxies, if it is hidden in cold, dense and small clouds, as several theories predict.
One contribution of 26 to a Discussion Meeting Issue ‘Physics, chemistry and astronomy of ’.
- © 2006 The Royal Society