Collaborative Research in Extrasolar Planets

John Armstrong and Shane Larson

The primary objective of the Collaborative Research in Extrasolar Planets is to determine the stability of habitable planets in known extrasolar planetary systems. Since January of 2008, the researchers have successfully completed a detailed study of one system, developed a framework to facilitate the study of additional systems, and completed work on a statistical comparison of known systems to numerical models. The project hired three students over the past summer:

  • Rhett Zollinger - Completed the first stability study of the planets in the habitable zone for the system Gliese 581, and completed a paper for publication that will be submitted to the Journal of Astronomy and Astrophysics in mid October.
  • Ryan Hayes - Built a front end interface for planetary climate models that can be executed on Weber State's computing cluster, making future work in extrasolar planetary modeling much more accessible to students. He will present this work at the upcoming regional American Physical Society meeting in El Paso, TX.
  • Ben Baldwin - Completed work on the planetary environments of tidally locked planets around M dwarf stars. This work will be extended to new extrasolar planetary systems currently being discovered. Ben was funded through the Virtual Planetary Laboratory collaboration with the University of Washington and their NASA Astrobiology Institute, supplementing the Bingham funds.

Additionally, the Bingham Extrasolar Planets collaboration extended the study of planetary angular momentum, modeling several hundred random planetary systems to compare their structure to the known extrasolar planetary systems. This work is in the final stages of preparation for submission to the Astrophysical Journal. The collaboration has also invited Dr. Sean Raymond to Weber State University in the Spring term of 2009 to visit with students, present his work on extrasolar planet formation, and participate in the International Year of Astronomy through a public lecture.

Ryan Haynes' work on the web interface is the model for a new project that is being established that deals with creating a collaborative spectral database. These types of simplified web interfaces provide tools for students and can be used by the greater scientific community.

Not only has this Extrasolar Planets project provided exciting opportunities for students to work as researchers on interesting projects, the results have extended human knowledge into extrasolar planet dynamics and climate models. The results will also bring even greater national recognition of the important undergraduate and faculty research being conducted at Weber State University.

Additional External Funding

Virtual Planetary Laboratory 4-D, John Armstrong, PI; A collaboration with the University of Washington on developing climate models for extrasolar planetary systems, NASA Astrobiology Institute; $30,000 for 1 year.

The Virtual Planetary Spectral Library, John Armstrong, PI; A collaboration between the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and WSU to create a spectral library for extrasolar planet research, NASA Astrobiology Institute; $45,000 for one year.

Resulting Publications

Armstrong, John C., Shane L. Larson, and Rhett R. Zollinger, (2008) "Specific Angular Momentum of Extrasolar Planetary Systems", in preparation for submission to the Astrophysical Journal.

Zollinger, Rhett R. and John C. Armstrong, (2008) "Additional planets in the habitable zone of Gliese 581?", in preparation to submission to Astronomy and Astrophysics.

Haynes, Ryan and John C. Armstrong, (2008) "Web interface for extrasolar planetary climate models", Presentation accepted for the Joint Fall 2008 Meeting of the Texas and Four Corner Sections of American Physical Society.