Detecting Young Planets and Their Effects in Pre-Main Sequence Disk Systems

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Michael Sitko

Professor A&S Physics
McMicken College of Arts and Sciences

Our understanding of the earliest stages of planetary formation is incomplete. The presence of jovian planets close to their host stars means that we are not necessarily detecting planets where they formed, but only where they end up after millions of years have passed. It is critical to search stellar systems when they are young to reveal how and where these planets formed. The pre-transitional and transitional disks are the planet-forming entities where disk clearing by young protoplanets is occurring. There is an urgent need to locate and characterize young planetary-mass objects in these systems. We need to remove this gap in our understanding of planet formation by detecting the protoplanets themselves, or by detecting the dynamical effects they produce on the disks from which they are born. The continued existence of this need represents an important problem because, until it is met, we cannot understand the continuum of events that result in a mature planetary system.

Our long-term goal is to understand the genesis of planets, and to do that, initial steps must be taken to characterize the critical early phases of planet formation. Our overall objective for this project, which is a step toward the attainment of our long-term goal, is to detect and document the early stages of planet formation. Our central hypothesis is that the formative stages of protoplanet formation can be detected in gapped disks of stars 1-20 million years old either directly or indirectly using a combination of extreme adaptive optics (EAO), infrared interferometry (IRI) and spectral energy distribution (SED) observations. We have formulated this approach based on preliminary observations that have established the feasibility of this approach. The rationale that underlies the proposed research is that, once we can detect the early stages of protoplanet formation, subsequent, in-depth investigations of the process will be enabled.

Project commenced on September 27, 2010

Target Countries

Collaborative Institutions