Research Fellows Directory
Dr Olja Panic
University of Leeds
From Discs to Exoplanets
My research seeks to unravel the origin of planetary systems. The number of detected planets around stars other than the Sun (exoplanets) has amounted to hundreds over the last decades. To answer how these planets formed and what determines the diversity of observed exoplanetary systems, we need to study discs of gas and dust that form these systems. As an astronomer, I have an amazing privilege to study discs with the recently constructed, world's largest ground observatory, the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimetre Array (ALMA). ALMA allows us to see past the bright surface of the disc, and deep into the dense, cold and dark plane where planets are being formed. For the first time, we are able to image in high definition the gas in disc mid-plane and directly measure its temperature, density and chemical composition, which opens the great opportunity to study not only the forces that bring the material together to form a planet but also what kind of planet could be made. Of central interest to my research project is the 20K isotherm in discs where major chemical and physical changes occur as a result of condensation of carbon monoxide (CO), a major gas constituent, onto the dust. This is known as the CO snowline, and was first seen in discs only recently, with ALMA. I use numerical and hydrodynamical simulations in tandem with radiative transfer tools and ALMA observations to characterise the effects the CO snowline has on planet formation. I recently established that the CO snowline migrates towards the star during the disc lifetime, and is therefore an important marker of the evolutionary stage of the disc. This marks the beginning of an exciting journey, with steadily improving capabilities of ALMA and with new facilities such as the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) on the horizon.
Interests and expertise (Subject groups)