The interplay between radiation pressure and the photoelectric instability in optically thin disks of gas and dust

Previous theoretical works have shown that in optically thin disks, dust grains are photoelectrically stripped of electrons by starlight, heating nearby gas and possibly creating a dust clumping instability, the photoelectric instability (PeI), that significantly alters global disk structure. In the current work, we use the Pencil Code to perform the first numerical models of the PeI that include stellar radiation pressure on dust grains in order to explore the parameter regime in which the instability operates. In models with gas surface densities greater than ∼10−4 g cm−2, we see a variety of dust structures, including sharp concentric rings and non-axisymmetric arcs and clumps that represent dust surface density enhancements of factors of ∼5−20 depending on the run parameters. The gas distributions show various structures as well, including clumps and arcs formed from spiral arms. In models with lower gas surface densities, vortices and smooth spiral arms form in the gas distribution, but the dust is too weakly coupled to the gas to be significantly perturbed. In one high gas surface density model, we include a large, low-order gas viscosity, and, in agreement with previous radiation pressure-free models, find that it observably smooths the structures that form in the gas and dust, suggesting that resolved images of a given disk may be useful for deriving constraints on the effective viscosity of its gas. Broadly, our models show that radiation pressure does not preclude the formation of complex structure from the PeI, but the qualitative manifestation of the PeI depends strongly on the parameters of the system. The PeI may provide an explanation for unusual disk morphologies such as the moving blobs of the AU Mic disk, the asymmetric dust distribution of the 49 Ceti disk, and the rings and arcs found in the disk around HD 141569A.