Planet Formation and Structure

There are more interesting planet projects to do than one can count. This is a very new field and the first problem one has to deal with is which of the many available questions are you going to address?

Some of the most basic questions concern the origins of planetary systems and which mechanisms determine the final architecture of the planetary systems. Recent observations suggest there is actually a wide range of final outcomes, many of them looking quite different from our own planetary system. We are investigating how forming planets interact with their surroundings, be it gas in the protostellar disk or smaller, rocky bodies called planetesimals (i.e. the planetary building blocks).

There is also the question of planetary structure and evolution. Some of the newly discovered planets are similar in size to Jupiter, but much closer to their parent stars (inside the orbit of Mercury). This means that they are strongly heated by their suns and this has a big effect on the planet structure. These may be the first planets for which we have direct evidence of their atmospheric compositions and so we want to make quantitative predictions about how they look.

I've long been fascinated by the planetary system that formed around a pulsar - clearly the weirdest planetary system found so far. It's interesting to consider how earthlike planets can form in an environment so profoundly different from our own. I'm hoping that this can shed some light on which processes are important in determining the outcome of terrestrial (i.e. earth-like as opposed to gas giant or Jupiter-like) planet formation.