I—along with collaborators at Lowell Observatory, Rice University, and the University of Texas at Austin—am searching for giant planets around very young (1–3 Myr old) stars. We are investigating 150 stars in the nearby Taurus-Auriga star-forming region with the doppler shift technique: deducing the presence of planets by looking for wobbling stars. Unfortunately, very young stars are problematic. Star spots, jets, accretion, and circumstellar disks all conspire to mask, or mimic, signs of planetary companions.
We distinguish between the substantial stellar noise of these young stars and true planets by combining observations in optical and near infrared wavelengths. Spurious fluctuations from star spots are greatly lessened at longer wavelengths. Planet-induced variations are not. From observations at McDonald Observatory, Kitt Peak National Observatory, the W.M. Keck Observatory, the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility, Lowell Observatory, and the U.S. Naval Observatory, we aim to uncover the youngest giant planets known in our galaxy.
Finding even one planet around such young stars would be paradigm-shifting. After two decades of exoplanet discoveries, a clear understanding of planet formation remains elusive. We are hindered by a lack of observational inputs. Theorists must resort to deducing the mechanisms of formation and evolution by studying established, mature systems. A far more preferable approach is to catalog the planet population around very young stars while these nascent worlds still reside in their formation environments. Unfortunately, we have no data from the planet formation epoch.
Selected peer-reviewed publications: