Planetary Formation and Dynamics

Solar System Dynamics

Our research interests include the dynamics of:

  • Planetary Rings
  • Comets, Meteor Streams and Asteroids
  • Satellites of the Outer Planets

Research regularly uses data from space missions. Prof. Carl Murray is a member of the Imaging Team of the Cassini mission to Saturn and the group has played an important role in interpreting Cassini data since the spacecraft went into orbit around the planet. Work has combined spacecraft imaging with theoretical modelling to understand the dynamics of Saturn's rings and their interaction with its satellites.

Planetary Formation, Accretion Disks, Planetary Atmospheres

Work within the Group covers theory and simulations. A primary research area is the formation and evolution of planets and planetary systems, with current focus being on their interaction with the nascent protoplanetary disc. Simulations using state-of-the art hydrodynamic, MHD and N-body codes on parallel supercomputers are used to study topical problems in planetary formation and accretion disc theory.

A second research area is the study of planetary collisions. For all types of planets and throughout all modes of accumulation, nascent planets suffer close approaches and giant impacts with objects of comparable size. These enormous collisions are central to the continued growth of planets and their subsequent evolution. Hydrodynamic simulations are used to study giant impacts and examine their role in determining planetary characteristics (e.g. planetary rotation, satellite formation, atmospheric retention and evolution).

Another major topic of research is the dynamics and evolution of planetary atmospheres. State-of-the-art simulations are employed to understand the structure and evolution of the both terrestrial and giant planet atmospheres, with recent work focussing on the short-period extrasolar giant planets - the so-called `hot Jupiters'.