Spectrum of the exoplanet HR 8799 c. Image credit: ESO/M. Janson

 

The birth and evolution of stars and planets is of key interest for understanding our universe. Stars are born when parts of dense molecular clouds collapse under the force of gravitation. The star that is formed is initially deeply embedded in the gas cloud it formed from, and develops a disc through which more material is added to the star, and which also is the birth place of planets. The disc persists for many tens of millions of years, and in some cases even full grown stars are still surrounded by a disc made of mostly rocks or pebbles ('debris disks').

The actual research on star formation in Stockholm focuses on the observational characteristics of planets and discs, both around young and old stars. The group uses adaptive optics instruments to correct for atmospheric distortion and get clearer images of faint discs and planets around bright parent stars, and uses high-resolution spectroscopy to examine their properties. There is also heavy involvement in space-based facilities such as CHEOPS and PLATO, which can detect unresolved planets through the so-called transit method, where a planet passing in front of a star blocks out a small fraction of the star’s light. Additionally, the group develops techniques for so-called astrometric planet detection, where a planet can be detected from its minute gravitational impact on its parent star.

Astrobiology is a cross-disciplinary research area which is trying to understand the conditions for the emergence of life in the Universe. Since the formation and evolution of planets, and complex molecules play an important role for the origin of life, we are also part of the Stockholm University Astrobiology Centrum, together with Depts. of Physics, Geological Sciences, and Molecular Biology and Functional Genomics.

 

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