Outer Planets

Pluto, the Kuiper belt and the early history of the solar system

Our understanding of the formation of the solar system has undergone a revolution in recent years, owing to new theoretical insights into the origin of Pluto and the discovery of the Kuiper belt and its complex dynamical structure.  The emerging picture is one of dramatic orbital migration of the planets in the early history of the solar system, driven by interaction with the primordial Kuiper belt, which produced the final solar system architecture that we live in today.  The evidence is all over the solar system, as close as the Moon and as far away as Pluto and the remnant Kuiper belt. 

Viewing Solar System Orbital Architecture through an Extrasolar Lens

The statistics of extrasolar planetary systems indicate that the default mode of planetary formation generates planets with orbital periods shorter than 100 days, and masses substantially exceeding that of the Earth. When viewed in this context, the Solar System, which contains no planets interior to Mercury’s 88-day orbit, is unusual. Extra-solar planetary detection surveys also suggest that planets with masses and periods broadly similar to Jupiter’s are somewhat uncommon, with occurrence fraction of less than ~ 10%. In this talk, Dr.

Saturn's Rings: An accessible Astrophysical Disk

Saturn's ring system is an astrophysical disk that is neither light-years away nor billions of years in the past. We can visit this disk at close range and observe a number of phenomena that also operate in disks of other kinds. As a result, we see small-scale processes that shape ring texture, connect those processes to the bodies and structures that cause them, and watch closely as the disk changes with time.

Some assembly required: Nature's instruction booklet for planetary migration

We once thought planets formed peacefully in situ in their natal disks and subsequently followed their orbits like clockwork. However, there is growing evidence that the typical planetary system forms with "some assembly required" and undergoes a dynamical rearrangement through planetary migration processes. The nature of this migration remains debated, in particular whether the migration is caused by smooth planet-disk interactions or violent multi-body interactions.

Convection in ice mantles: effects of texture and anisotropy

icy moonThe icy mantles of satellites in the outer solar system may transport heat by solid-state convection, which is important because it provides a mechanism for cycling material between a ocean and surface, controls the rate of heat transport, and may produce surface geological features. The style of convection and rate of heat transport depend strongly on ice rheology, which is complex.

The atmospheric circulation of Pluto and Triton as predicted by a general circulation model

A variety of previous studies have investigated the 1D vertical temperature-pressure profiles of Pluto and Triton's atmospheres, while another class of models has investigated the bulk north-south transport of volatiles on these worlds.  However, only recently have modern, 3D general circulation models (GCMs) been applied to Pluto and Triton.

How to Catch a Moon of Pluto (and what to do with it when it's caught)

Our recent discoveries of two small moons orbiting Pluto raise interesting new questions about how the dwarf planet formed. We now know that a total of four outer moons circle around a central "double-planet" comprising Pluto and its large, nearby moon Charon. NASA's New Horizons spacecraft will arrive at Pluto in July 2015, and the new discoveries come just in time for the science planners to target closeup views of the tiny bodies during the flyby.

Close-in Planets: From Hot Jupiters to Super Moons

The closest-in planets, with periods as short as 10 hours, are now a well-established population, thanks to Doppler and transit surveys. They present a number of challenges: how did they form and achieve their tight orbits, and how do they evolve and survive in the face of intense irradiation from their parent stars? Although orbital migration is often invoked, the possibility of in-situ accretion deserves consideration, and Dr. Chiang will review how rocky cores coagulate and acquire gaseous envelopes at the smallest disk radii.

Radio Anatomy of Saturn's Rings with Cassini (Video)

Like the scalpel in the hand of a skilled surgeon, Cassini radio signals have been dissecting Saturn’s rings since 2005.  In a group of special Cassini orbits that place the main ring system between Cassini and the Earth (radio occultation orbits), perturbations in parameters of three nearly pure sinusoidal radio signals (0.94, 3.6, and 13 cm wavelength) simultaneously transmitted by Cassini through the rings are captured at one or more of the ground receiving stations of the NASA Deep Space Network (DSN).

Ice on the Move: From Io to Pluto

It's perhaps no surprise that the cold worlds of the outer solar system often display surfaces covered in ice, though the ice composition is sometimes unexpected, including sulfur dioxide or nitrogen ice, for instance, in addition to water ice.  The motion of these ices as they sublime and condense can have profound effects on these worlds and their atmospheres.  The variable patchy atmosphere of Io, the extreme albedo contrasts seen on small scales on Callisto and on large scales on Iapetus, and seasonal changes in the atmospheres of Pluto and Triton, are all controlled by the movement of

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