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Linking exoplanet detection to formation: population synthesis

   Department of Space & Climate Physics

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  Dr V van Eylen  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

The possibility of planets orbiting other stars has been a topic of fascination for centuries. We are the first generation that has brought these planets – now known as exoplanets – from the realm of science-fiction into that of science. An important milestone was the discovery of several planets orbiting a pulsar (Wolszczan & Frail, 1992), followed by the first planet orbiting a star more similar to our Sun (Mayor & Queloz, 1995), an achievement awarded the 2019 Nobel Prize in Physics. The 25 years since have been filled with an abundance of exciting discoveries and today we know over 4000 exoplanets. These planets exhibit an incredible diversity of properties. Why do so many planets have tiny orbits – often much smaller than that of Mercury? What causes planets to become rocky, gaseous, or something in between? Why do some planets have orbits that are strongly eccentric, or misaligned with the rotation of their host stars? What happens to planets when stars evolve away from the main sequence? Which planets are the most favourable and interesting targets for studies of their atmospheres? How unique is our solar system – are we alone?

Exoplanet science is a young field of research and there is great potential for many ground-breaking new discoveries. A PhD project is available that will seek to link the discovery of thousands of exoplanets to planet formation models, in what is known as population synthesis modelling. Over the next years, the number of known exoplanets is expected to double or even triple, powered by progress in complementary observing techniques such as transit measurements, radial velocity observations, directly imaged exoplanets, microlensing data, and forthcoming astrometric planet detections. During this PhD project, we will attempt to link simulated planet population synthesis models to the observed picture of planet architecture, demographics, and host star properties, to test the underlying physics of planet formation.

During this project a motivated student will sharpen their analytical background and physical knowledge, while developing strong data science skills that will be valuable both in an academic career and outside of academia. Furthermore, there will be ample opportunity to travel to other universities and present new findings in international conferences, as well as the potential to conduct novel observations at telescopes around the world.

Desired Knowledge and Skills

  • Undergraduate in astrophysics, planetary science, computer science, or related degree.
  • A background in physics and/or data science is helpful but lack thereof can be overcome with strong motivation. Alternatively, a motivated student with a strong background in computer science or data science rather than astrophysics will also be considered.
  • Excellent writing and presentation skills are a bonus, as is evidence of motivation, leadership and creativity.

For details of how to apply please refer to our website: PhD Opportunities | UCL Department of Space and Climate Physics - UCL – University College London.

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