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Observations of dynamic solar systems: lessons from the Kuiper Belt and extrasolar planets

Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Our solar system formed billions of years ago, when we weren't looking, and only fragments of clues remain as to how that happened. But history is written in the existence and nature of the surviving planets, and in the small rocky and icy bodies that never became planets. History is also written in the gaps: why is there nothing here, but something there? I will present research on this theme from the Kuiper Belt and from extrasolar planets.
Small bodies in the outer solar system offer potentially powerful constraints on the outward migration of the giant planets. As part of the Deep Ecliptic Survey team, I will present a reconstruction of the actual population of Kuiper Belt objects, working from the sample of 500 objects that we discovered. This provides an independent determination of the number of objects in different dynamical classes, which is useful for modeling the history of our solar system.
Far from our Sun, but often very close to their own stars, are an ever-increasing number of extrasolar planets. Here, too, we are biased in terms of which objects we can detect. I will discuss efforts to detect unseen planets through their perturbations of the planets we know about. Observations of such distant planets require a high level of precision. I will describe my work in detecting faint, close stellar companions using adaptive optics images, and why we need these images and detection limits to be confident we know the real story of these distant planetary systems.


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