Presentation #103.03 in the session “Advances in Simulations of Exoplanet Evolution”.
Over the course of recent decades, N-body simulations have become a standard tool for quantifying the gravitational perturbations that ensue in planet-forming disks. Within the context of such simulations, massive non-central bodies are routinely classified into “big” and “small” particles, where big objects interact with all other objects self-consistently, while small bodies interact with big bodies but not with each other. Importantly, this grouping translates to an approximation scheme where the orbital evolution of small bodies is dictated entirely by the dynamics of the big bodies, yielding considerable computational advantages with little added cost in terms of astrophysical accuracy. Here we point out, however, that this scheme can also yield spurious dynamical behaviour, where even in absence of big bodies within a simulation, indirect coupling among small bodies can lead to excitation of the constituent “non-interacting” orbits. We demonstrate this self-stirring by carrying out a sequence of numerical experiments, and confirm that this effect is largely independent of the time-step or the employed integration algorithm. Furthermore, adopting the growth of angular momentum deficit as a proxy for dynamical excitation, we explore its dependence on time, the cumulative mass of the system, as well as the total number of particles present in the simulation. Finally, we examine the degree of such indirect excitation within the context of conventional terrestrial planet formation calculations, and conclude that although some level of caution may be warranted, this effect plays a negligible role in driving the simulated dynamical evolution.