Lowell Observatory Colloquia

Molecular spectroscopy of planet-forming regions: A quest to understand the diversity of planets and planetary systems

Colette Salyk, NOAO

Lowell Observatory, Giclas Lecture Hall, 3 May, 2012 at 3:30 p.m.

We have long known about the great diversity of environments found within the solar system. Now, thanks to radial velocity and transit detections of exoplanets, we know that planetary systems display a great variety of architectures. How do each of these systems come to be, and did the solar system follow a common or unusual path towards producing a planetary system capable of sustaining life? Although planetary observations and meteorite samples provide detailed information about some aspects of the solar system's origins, these techniques are limited to examining the fossil remnants of the formation process. Observations of protoplanetary disks around young stars, on the other hand, allow us to view planetary systems as they form, and to determine the relative uniqueness of the early solar system environment. These observations face many technical challenges and to-date we have studied only the most basic characteristics of disks. However, we are transitioning into an age where detailed structure and chemistry can be studied, informing us about the diversity of initial conditions for planet formation. I will discuss the role that molecular spectroscopy has played in effecting this transformation, both in providing a clever means to study disk structure on small scales, and in providing a means to study disk chemistry.

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