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Planets - The Solar System and Beyond (PLANETARYSYSTEMS)
Start date: Jun 1, 2008, End date: May 31, 2013 PROJECT  FINISHED 

The discovery of the first extra solar planet, merely twelve years ago, ushered an explosive growth in our knowledge of planetary systems. Extrasolar planets have been detected with ever-smaller masses and today Earth analogs orbiting other stars are on the discovery horizon! Observations of disks around young stars reveal the initial conditions for planet formation while detections of debris disks probe post formation stages. Closer to home, exploration of the Kuiper Belt provides new clues on planet migration and on the intermediate stages of planetary accretion. Some discoveries, like extrasolar planets with short orbital periods and high eccentricities, have led to a complete overhaul of previously accepted planet formation theories. The increasing wealth of observations creates a unique opportunity to answer fundamental questions pertaining to planets and planetary systems. The relevant objects include on one hand giant extrasolar planets, a thousand times more massive than Earth, and on the other hand rocky and icy Kuiper Belt Objects, a millionth of the Earth mass. The physical processes vary from the resonant interaction of giant extrasolar planets with gas disks to collisions of solid bodies in the outer solar system. Still, much of the underlying physics, especially orbital dynamics, is common. We propose, therefore, an innovative program of integrated studies of the above subjects. A unique aspect of my group’s approach is utilizing the common physics for a synergic treatment of these traditionally separated topics. By answering open questions in dynamics, investigating the inner workings of planetesimal coagulation and interpreting the properties of extrasolar planets we will make significant breakthroughs in the understanding of planet formation and its possible outcomes. This will illuminate our place in the universe and will guide farther searches of planets. Our exploration is at the beginning of a long voyage seeking life around nearby stars.

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