Understanding the formation of planets remains one of astronomy’s most rewarding challenges. It is an important part of our quest to understand our own cosmic origins, and it bears on the possibility of life on other worlds. Dramatic progress has been made in the opening decades of the 21st century, however, significant questions remain unanswered. We now know that planets in our galaxy are ubiquitous and that the most common kinds of planets are super-Earths or mini-Neptunes (planets 3-10 times as massive as Earth). The variety of architectures of planetary systems is still being explored, but there are important gaps in our knowledge of where planets are typically located. For example, it is not clear how common gas giant planets in the outer regions of stellar systems form. We know that Jupiter played a pivotal role in early evolution of our own planet, but we don’t yet know how common it is for gas giant planets to form exterior to closer in terrestrial planets. I’ll describe the challenges involved in detecting these illusive objects, why they are important for putting our own Solar System into a cosmic context, and the opportunities emerging technology will provide to address this issue in the near future.
Speaker: Sean Brittain
BS, Chemical Physics, LeTourneau University, 1997
MS, Physics, Univ. of Notre Dame, 2000
PhD, Physics , Univ. of Notre Dame, 2004
My principal research focus is on understanding the origin of structures in disks that could potentially point to the presence of planets. Our work has demonstrated an inconsistency between the occurrence rate of putative signposts of planets and the occurrence rate of planets around young stars. We have proposed a series of hypotheses that can account for this incongruency, and we are using high-resolution near infrared spectroscopy to test these hypotheses.
Star and Planet formation