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Understanding Planet Formation through High Precision Photometry and Spectroscopy


Lockwood, Alexandra Charlotte (2014) Understanding Planet Formation through High Precision Photometry and Spectroscopy. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/7F1H-FG47.


From studies of protoplanetary disks to extrasolar planets and planetary debris, we aim to understand the full evolution of a planetary system. Observational constraints from ground- and space-based instrumentation allows us to measure the properties of objects near and far and are central to developing this understanding. We present here three observational campaigns that, when combined with theoretical models, reveal characteristics of different stages and remnants of planet formation. The Kuiper Belt provides evidence of chemical and dynamical activity that reveals clues to its primordial environment and subsequent evolution. Large samples of this population can only be assembled at optical wavelengths, with thermal measurements at infrared and sub-mm wavelengths currently available for only the largest and closest bodies. We measure the size and shape of one particular object precisely here, in hopes of better understanding its unique dynamical history and layered composition.

Molecular organic chemistry is one of the most fundamental and widespread facets of the universe, and plays a key role in planet formation. A host of carbon-containing molecules vibrationally emit in the near-infrared when excited by warm gas, T~1000 K. The NIRSPEC instrument at the W.M. Keck Observatory is uniquely configured to study large ranges of this wavelength region at high spectral resolution. Using this facility we present studies of warm CO gas in protoplanetary disks, with a new code for precise excitation modeling. A parameterized suite of models demonstrates the abilities of the code and matches observational constraints such as line strength and shape. We use the models to probe various disk parameters as well, which are easily extensible to others with known disk emission spectra such as water, carbon dioxide, acetylene, and hydrogen cyanide.

Lastly, the existence of molecules in extrasolar planets can also be studied with NIRSPEC and reveals a great deal about the evolution of the protoplanetary gas. The species we observe in protoplanetary disks are also often present in exoplanet atmospheres, and are abundant in Earth's atmosphere as well. Thus, a sophisticated telluric removal code is necessary to analyze these high dynamic range, high-resolution spectra. We present observations of a hot Jupiter, revealing water in its atmosphere and demonstrating a new technique for exoplanet mass determination and atmospheric characterization. We will also be applying this atmospheric removal code to the aforementioned disk observations, to improve our data analysis and probe less abundant species. Guiding models using observations is the only way to develop an accurate understanding of the timescales and processes involved. The futures of the modeling and of the observations are bright, and the end goal of realizing a unified model of planet formation will require both theory and data, from a diverse collection of sources.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:dwarf planets; near-IR spectroscopy; direct detection of exoplanets; protoplanetary disks
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Geological and Planetary Sciences
Major Option:Planetary Sciences
Awards:Graduate Dean's Award for Outstanding Community Service, 2014
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Blake, Geoffrey A.
Group:Astronomy Department
Thesis Committee:
  • Ingersoll, Andrew P. (co-chair)
  • Knutson, Heather A. (co-chair)
  • Yung, Yuk L.
  • Johnson, John A.
  • Blake, Geoffrey A.
Defense Date:18 December 2013
Funding AgencyGrant Number
National Science Foundation Graduate Research FellowshipUNSPECIFIED
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:05292014-141324161
Persistent URL:
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription 2 Published in Earth, Moon, and Planets Journal 3 Published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:8425
Deposited By: Alexandra Lockwood
Deposited On:30 May 2014 21:36
Last Modified:08 Nov 2023 00:16

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