Alycia Weinberger wants to understand how planets form, so she observes young stars in our galaxy and their disks, from which planets are born. She also looks for and studies planetary systems.
Studying disks surrounding nearby stars help us determine the necessary conditions for planet formation. Young disks contain the raw materials for building planets and the ultimate architecture of planetary systems depends on how these raw materials are distributed, what the balance of different elements and ices is within the gas and dust, and how fast the disks dissipate.
Weinberger uses a variety of observational techniques and facilities, particularly ultra-high spatial-resolution imaging using advanced instrumentation on the ground and in space including the Hubble Space Telescope (HST). Using the HST, she images the smallest dust grains in disks at different wavelengths to examine the dynamical state and composition of the disk. With Carnegie’s Magellan Telescopes, she looks for where and how abundant ices and organics exist throughout disk evolution. Using the Large Binocular Telescope Interferometer, she searches for faint remnant disks, such as the Solar System’s Zodiacal cloud, that reveal the presence of planets and asteroids that might otherwise not be known.
Studying the young stars that host disks also can tell us a lot about planet formation. Weinberger measures the distance to young stars to better understand their luminosities and birthplaces and thereby the influences on their disk evolution. She is also involved in projects to detect and image planets around nearby stars, both at Las Campanas Observatory and in planning for future space missions.
Weinberger received her B.A. in physics from the University of Pennsylvania and her Ph.D. in physics from Caltech. Before joining the Carnegie scientific staff in 2001, she was a NICMOS postdoctoral researcher and astrobiology postdoctoral fellow at UCLA. For more information see http://www.dtm.ciw.edu/people/alycia-j-weinberger