Planets

The formation of planets and the search for extrasolar planets are active areas of research in Australia.

Modelling Planet Formation & Planetary Dynamics:

The Monash Centre for Astrophysics (MoCA) is interested in the dynamics of planetary systems including the effects of tidal interactions, spin-orbit coupling and general relativity in short period systems which involve more than one planet. They also study the phenomenon of resonance capture in which the orbital periods of a pair of planets are commensurate. This is a result of nonlinear interaction coupled with damping during the formation era and tells us much about conditions during that time.

The Stars & Planets Group at Swinburne University are engaged in computational studies of star and planet formation, including the dynamics and evolution of protoplanetary disks around young single and binary stars; the early stages of planet growth from microns to metres; and the effects of planets on the evolution of protostellar disks.

Planet Searches:

The Anglo-Australian Planet Search uses the University College London Echelle Spectrograph (or UCLES) on the Anglo-Australian Telescope to detect the telltale Doppler wobble induced in a star by an orbiting planet. The ongoing search is targeting 240 nearby Sun-like stars and achieves the highest precision demonstrated by any planet search in the Southern Hemisphere. Velocity shifts down to 3 metres per second can be detected: this is just at the threshold of the influence of a Saturn-mass planet. Running since 1998, the AAPS has detected more than a dozen planets. Time is a crucial factor in planet detection searches. Data must be taken over a sufficiently long period to measure the orbit of the potential planet. The AAPS is set to continue until 2010, by which time it will have obtained enough data to be able to detect Jupiter-mass planets.

ANU’s RSAA is part of the HAT-South project, a collaboration between RSAA, Harvard CfA, and Max Planck. HAT-South uses a network of dedicated telescopes to search for transiting planets around bright southern stars. The telescopes are situated in Australia (SSO), Chile (Las Campanas) and Namibia (HESS), with each site hosting an identical set up of telescopes and cameras that can monitor 128 square degrees of sky at a time.

The University of New South Wales Planet Search team is using the 0.5m Automated Patrol Telescope (APT) at Siding Spring Observatory to search for transiting extrasolar planets. We have developed a new observing technique which allows us to measure stars with 2mmag precision in crowded, under-sampled images.

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