Planetary Astrophysics

The planetary science research interest includes the detection and characterization of exoplanets, protoplanetary disk structure, planet formation and evolution, planetary dynamics, planet internal structure, and small bodies in our Solar system. Because of tradition, researchers in this field are from several research divisions of our institute.

Exoplanet exploration and statistical research

Although thousands of exoplanets have been discovered, Earth-like planets in the habitable zone around solar type stars, known as Earth 2.0s, have not been detected yet. The “Earth 2.0” (ET) space mission led by Professor GE Jian will conduct the first major census of terrestrial planets with orbital periods covering the Habitable Zone around solar type stars (FGK dwarfs) and also M dwarfs to answer the key scientific questions of whether Earth 2.0s exist and constrain the occurrence rate of such kind of planets and other terrestrial planets. In addition to terrestrial planets, the ET mission will also provide a diverse sample of exoplanets, such as ultra-short-period planet, long-period cold planets, multi-planet systems, circumbinary planets, planets around white dwarfs, and free-floating planets, to study the distribution of planetary properties and planetary system architecture, as well as their correlation with host stars. 

In recent years, big data have been accumulated from previous and on-going exoplanet surveys such as Kepler and TESS space missions for exoplanet detection and characterization. Innovative techniques and pipelines, including machine learning algorithms, have been developed by us and applied them in processing and analysing high precision photometry data from these space surveys, as well as radial velocity data from ground-based surveys such as the Dharma planet survey led by Prof. Jian Ge to detect and characterize small size/mass planets. 

Researchers in this field include Profs. GE Jian and ZHANG Hui, A/Profs. LI Yaping and DENG Hongping.

Protoplanetary disk structure

In recent years, high-resolution multi-band observations have revealed abundant sub-structures in the protoplanetary disks. As a planet-forming site, these sub-structures provide important clues to the planet formation process. Our main research interests here include the formation mechanisms of these sub- structures in the protoplanetary disks, the dynamics and interactions of gas and dust on the disks using multi-fluid numerical simulations, and thus to explore their implications on planet formation models and to establish links with mature planetary systems. Researchers in this direction include Prof. ZHANG Hui, A/Profs.  LI Yaping and DENG Hongping.

Formation and evolution, and dynamics of planets

Thousands of exoplanets have been detected in recent years, characterized by several populations such as hot Jupiters, cold Jupiters, super-Earths and sub-Neptunes. How different populations of exoplanets formed is one of the most essential questions in planetary science, and it is also directly related with the origins of our Solar system. Here, our main research interests include the formation path of terrestrial planets, including Earth 2.0s, the migration and accretion process of protoplanets on the disk, and the resonance and scattering process between multi-planet systems after disk dissipation. The main research methods include (magneto-)hydrodynamical, N-body numerical simulation and statistical study. Researchers in this direction include Profs. GE Jian, ZHANG Hui, LIAO Xinhao, YUAN Feng, BU Defu, A/Profs. DENG Hongping and LI Yaping.

Planetary interior structure and fluid dynamics

Planetary fluid interiors, such as liquid cores of terrestrial planets or overall gas giants, undergo complex nonlinear dynamics, whose evolution trajectories are largely controlled by several key dynamical parameters, e.g. Ekman number, Prandtl number, Roberts number etc. At planetary scale, interior dynamics determine thermal evolution, compositional evolution and generation of intrinsic magnetic field. The above-mentioned key parameters are in turn determined by internal thermal, chemical and magnetic conditions, which hence suggests the reason why we care planetary interior structure and composition. Fortunately, deep space exploration missions have brought unprecedentedly abundant and detailed knowledge of Solar System planets to human beings, offering extremely valuable samples of various typical planetary interiors. The relevant research group “Planetary Physics and Magnetohydrodynamics” is led by Prof. KONG Dali. 

Solar System’s small bodies 

The formation and evolution of small bodies in the Solar System via synthesizing exploration data with high fidelity models are investigated. By analysing celestial bodies such as asteroids, comets, Trans-Neptunian Objects of their dynamics, physical and chemical properties, internal structure, volatile distribution, activities, and so on, we explore their formation environment in the early Solar System and their evolutionary paths thereafter. We also explore, from the perspective of small bodies, the habitability of our Solar System, of its emergence, evolution, and demise.  In addition, deep learning tools have been developed by Prof. GE Jian’s group to search for fast moving objects (FMOs) in survey data from Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTP) and Near Earth Objects (NEOs) in all sky survey data from the WISE/NEOWISE space mission.

Research Group in the Astrophysics Division:

Black hole accretion and high energy physics, led by Prof. YUAN Feng

Members in this field: BU Defu & LI Yaping

Research Groups in other divisions of SHAO:

Exoplanet exploration and statistical research, led by Prof. GE Jian

Members in this field: ZHANG Hui & DENG Hongping

Planetary Physics and Magnetohydrodynamics, led by Prof. KONG Dali

Members: LI Ligang, CHEN Jianxia, and TANG Kai

Solar System’s small bodies, led by Prof. SHI Xian

Members: LI Jin & WANG Songjun

Rotation of the Earth, led by Prof. LIAO Xinhao

Members: HUANG Chengli, ZHOU Yonghong, ZHANG Mian, XU Xueqing, GONG Shengxia, DUAN Pengshuo,  and LIAN Lizhen

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