Characterizing the Planet-Forming Material around Low-Mass Young Stars with ALMA

Project: Research project

Project Details


The top level goal of the proposed research is to understand how, where, and when planets form in nearby protostellar disks. We will directly measure the distribution and properties of the raw ingredients, and infer the steps involved in forming planets. The specific objectives of this program are 1) analysis of state-of-the-art ALMA observations of protoplanetary disks and 2) radiative transfer modeling of the gas and dust emission. The observations are from an approved ALMA Cycle 1 study of 24 protoplanetary disks around low-mass stars and brown dwarfs in Taurus that were selected based on a comprehensive survey with the Herschel Space Observatory. Low-mass stars form the majority of the stellar population both in the field and in starforming regions, and they represent prime targets for NASA exoplanet missions, e.g. TESS and JWST. Understanding the properties of the protoplanetary disks around low-mass stars is therefore essential to gauge planet formation around this most common type of star. Detailed models of each system, however, are required to fully interpret the observations. By combining the transformational capabilities of ALMA with state-of-the-art radiative hydrodynamic simulations, we will answer/address fundamental questions in planet formation: (1) Is there sufficient disk mass to form planets around the lowest mass stars and brown dwarfs? (2) How do disk properties vary within a population of a given age? (3) Do the lowest mass objects retain significant gas disks? (4) Are the gas and dust co-located? and (5) How does dust settling and grain growth depend on the stellar mass and disk gas content? The deliverables from this project are ALMA 850m continuum maps of the Taurus members, 12CO(3-2) line emission maps and profiles, and a grid of simulations covering a range of star/disk/planet properties informed by the observational results. Another deliverable with a legacy value for follow-up research will be a prioritized list of targets to pursue for planet imaging and more detailed disk structure mapping. Written deliverables will include a research journal article reporting the results of the collaborative study, follow-up telescope proposals to ALMA and HST, and funding proposals to NSF and HST.
Effective start/end date10/24/149/30/15


  • National Aeronautics Space Administration (NASA): $50,000.00

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