Friday, 18 April 2014

Looking Outward: Studies of the Physical and Chemical Evolution of Planetary Systems

Astronomical observation, i.e. remote sensing of the existence, composition, and dynamics of planetary systems, remains a central astrobiological enterprise. The study of exosolar planetary systems simultaneously informs our thinking about the formation and evolution of our own Solar System and reveals the myriad paths the natural processes of star and planet formation take. Habitable environments depend on how the raw materials of the interstellar medium are processed to create planets. The very different bulk compositions of our terrestrial planets, asteroids, gas giant moons and Kuiper Belt objects (KBOs) suggest that location of formation and radial transport both contributed to the final planetary states. Our investigations will combine observations of Solar-aged stars of different masses to probe the possible outcomes of planetary formation, theory and observations of young stars to probe initial stages of formation, and observations of our own Solar System to probe the detailed history of one planetary system.  Together, our work will find the environments where terrestrial planets can reside, the rocky planets themselves, and determine if surface water and organics necessary for life on these planets are common.