Planet formation by coagulation: A focus on Uranus and Neptune

Peter Goldreich*, Yoram Lithwick, Re'em Sari

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

241 Scopus citations


Planets form in the circumstellar disks of young stars. We review the basic physical processes by which solid bodies accrete each other and alter each others' random velocities, and we provide order-of-magnitude derivations for the rates of these processes. We discuss and exercise the two-groups approximation, a simple yet powerful technique for solving the evolution equations for protoplanet growth. We describe orderly, runaway, neutral, and oligarchic growth. We also delineate the conditions under which each occurs. We refute a popular misconception by showing that the outer planets formed quickly by accreting small bodies. Then we address the final stages of planet formation. Oligarchy ends when the surface density of the oligarchs becomes comparable to that of the small bodies. Dynamical friction is no longer able to balance viscous stirring and the oligarchs' random velocities increase. In the inner-planet system, oligarchs collide and coalesce. In the outer-planet system, some of the oligarchs are ejected. In both the inner- and outer-planet systems, this stage ends once the number of big bodies has been reduced to the point that their mutual interactions no longer produce large-scale chaos. Subsequently, dynamical friction by the residual small bodies circularizes and flattens their orbits. The final stage of planet formation involves the clean up of the residual small bodies. Clean up has been poorly explored.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)549-601
Number of pages53
JournalAnnual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics
StatePublished - 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Accretion
  • Oligarchy
  • Planets
  • Runaway
  • Solar System


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