Pathways to Habitable Worlds
Protoplanetary disks and planet formation
How do planets form ? If we could understand this then we would be able to place planets in their proper context as part of the chain of events leading to life (assuming that they are a likely place for life to occur). It would also allow us to place our own world, and solar system, in the vast family of worlds - and thereby learn directly of our own origins and place in the cosmos.
We have a cutting-edge program of theoretical and computational studies of planet formation processes. Critical to this effort is an understanding of the nature of the earliest stages of a planetary system - the so-called proto-planetary disk of raw material which encircles young stars and which eventually coalesces into new worlds.
Going on in parallel, we have a program aimed at providing the critical data needed to test our theories. We are using infra-red and X-ray space-based observatories to study young stars and proto-planetary disks. We are using studies of meteoritics to try to understand the chemical composition of proto-planetary disks. Finally, our team includes members of the Lyot Project - with the worlds most sensitive coronographic imager, capable of directly viewing proto-planetary disks, and possibly exo-planets themselves.
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