With the discovery of thousands of planets orbiting other stars (namely, exoplanets) in the recent years, exoplanetary science has become one of the most rapidly growing branches of astrophysics. How common are exoplanetary systems? What are their properties? And eventually, do they harbor life? The first step towards addressing these fundamental questions requires dedicated efforts to search for exoplanets, and subsequent follow-up observations to characterize their orbital and physical properties. At THCA, we are involved in exoplanet searches using microlensing and transit methods. Current activities include collaborations with Korea Microlensing Telescope Network (KMTNet), as well as observations using the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (CFHT) and telescopes in the Las Cumbres Observatory (LCO) network.
Contact: Shude Mao
Protoplanetary disks and planet formation
Protoplanetary disks are gaseous disks orbiting newly formed stars. Within the lifetime of a few million years, dust particles in these disks coagulate into larger bodies, and eventually grow into protoplanets. What are the physical processes behind planet formation? What determines their sizes, composition, and orbital architectures? The discovery of thousands of exoplanets demands for solid understanding of these questions yet they largely rely on the poorly known disk properties. In the mean time, with superb spatial resolution and sensitivity, ALMA has recently revealed rich substructures that appear to be ubiquitous among disks, pointing to major revision in our understandings of disks. Through theoretical modeling and numerical simulations that aim to incorporate the most realistic disk physics, we study the dynamics of gas, dust and planets in disks, as well as the associated chemical processes, and compare with disk observations. On top of these detailed studies, we investigate the physical processes in major stages of planet formation, which helps us gain insights towards better understanding exoplanetary systems.
Contact: Xuening Bai