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.