The SMA plays a leading role in providing data to characterize the physical properties of the disks around young low mass stars, the direct analogs of the early Solar System in the epoch of planet formation. As of this writing, there are 39 published refereed SMA papers that focus solely on this topic, and these have garnered more than 543 citations. Several more papers are submitted, and the publication rate of SMA disk data is increasing as technical capabilities continue to mature. The success of the SMA in this area is due in large part to high sensitivity to comparatively bright thermal emission from both dust and gas tracers of disk material at submillimeter wavelengths, coupled with the capability to resolve disks that subtend a few arcseconds at most.
The main science impact from SMA observations of circumstellar disks has come in the following five areas: (1) resolved data on surface density structure from optically thin dust continuum emission, giving constraints on planet building, indirect indications of giant protoplanets through tidal holes, and insight into the physics of accretion; (2) identification of nearby, isolated, gas-rich disks amenable to detailed study, particularly at southern declinations newly accessible to millimeter interferometry; (3) other diagnostics from dust emission, including evidence for grain growth from submillimeter spectral indices and constraints on magnetic fields from the linear polarization; (4) resolved observations of key spectral lines from abundant species that probe nebular chemistry; and (5) the first measurements of the masses of the Orion "proplyds", showing the effects of radiation and winds from high mass stars in a clustered star formation environment.
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