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Spring Conferences Heat Up, Attract PSI Scientists

Jupiter's icy moon Europa

Jupiter's icy moon Europa. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute.


With the coming of spring, conferences are blooming up in all directions. Often scheduled to allow teaching faculty to easily attend, we see meetings filling our schedules around the holidays, and at the beginning and end of summer break. 

If you see us talking a lot about what our researchers are presenting all of a sudden... well, now you know why. 

Recently Nader Haghighipour and Matt Walker attended the Division of Dynamical Astronomy meeting (which, like most things still are, was totally online). This conference focused on how the dynamics of and within Solar System objects shape what we observe. 

For Matt Walker, this conference meant discussing work he and his collaborators have been doing to understand how the heat from impacts and the heat of tidal forces affect objects' evolution. (Yes – rock and ice rise and fall with the tides, just like water, but with less drama.) Matt discussed how orbital shape effects how much an object like Europa (pictured above) is heated by tidal effects. (Less circular means more heating!) One of Matt’s collaborators presented on how periods of massive bombardment, where an object is struck over and over by impacting comets or asteroids, can also change how the inside of the world develops over time. 

From Icy Bodies, the research of Nader Haghighipour and collaborators carried us over to the rockier side of science. Planets grew piecemeal, with dust building into rocks building into planetesimals (see image below) that in some cases grows into things like asteroids or planets. The details of the process are still unknown, and planetary scientists are working on discovering them both though the use of better telescopes and better software. For Nader and his collaborators are team Computational Models, and in their advanced code, this team is looking at the interplay of motion and mass in a Solar System with the well-defined start of forming a star and a gas giant. While our own Solar System is more complicated, we need to start with what seems simple because the needed computational power is still at the limits of what we can do. The awesome thing about this work is it makes clear predictions of what the observers should see if these models are right. 

The science is evolving faster than the Solar System, and we look forward to seeing where this research goes. For now though, we need to go take a look at the next conference folks are attending... Stay tuned!

disk of material growing planetesimals 

Disk material growing planetesimals. Credit: ESO/L. Calçada.


May 23, 2021
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