Astrophysical Applications of Dusty Plasma Physics
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An ionized gas is a plasma, a sea of ions and electrons. The introduction of dust into the ionized gas forms a dusty plasma, a colloidal mixture of micron- to submicronsized grains and charged particles. The dust becomes charged and then can be influenced by electric and magnetic fields. This thesis examines the role of dusty plasmas in two separate astrophysical environments: circumplanetary rings, specifically Saturn’s F Ring, and protoplanetary disks. Numerical calculations of the orbits of grains in the F Ring are carried out in an effort to better understand the plasma parameters of this poorly understood system. Perturbing forces on a single grain, such as Saturn’s magnetic field, radiation pressure, and gravitational interactions with shepherding moons, are calculated and numerical integrations are performed to find the orbital parameters in time. Within protoplanetary disks, fractal dust grains collide and stick, forming small-scale structures believed to be the seeds of planet formation. A numerical model is used to study the impact of charging on these fractal aggregates and how said charging impacts aggregate morphology at various locations within the protoplanetary disk.