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Extra-solar Planets

Isle of Skye, UK, 28th May - 8th June 2007

General Information

Topic of the Summer School

The detection and characterisation of extra-solar planets is one of the most active and exciting fields in astrophysics.  Since the discovery in 1995 of the first exoplanet orbiting a main sequence star, almost 200 planets have been detected and this number is expected to further increase dramatically in the next few years as a range of new ground-based planetary searches report their results.  While the bulk of discoveries to date have been made via the Doppler wobble technique, where the presence of a massive planet is detected from tiny periodic shifts in the wavelength of lines in the spectrum of its parent star, a growing number of planets have been found by other techniques, including the transit method, astrometric wobble and gravitational microlensing. These techniques offer the tantalising possibility of the "holy grail" of exoplanet searches: the detection of an Earth-mass planet in the habitable zone of a solar-type star.  Such a discovery may remain some way off, but progress towards it has been rapid, and in early 2006 microlensing observations revealed a planet of only 5 times Earth mass orbiting a cool dwarf star.  In the longer term lies the exciting prospect of carrying out spectroscopic study of exoplanetary atmospheres, observations which could reveal the presence of "biomarkers", including water vapour, oxygen and carbon dioxide.
The rich harvest of new planets from the Doppler wobble method has revealed the presence of a substantial population of "hot Jupiters": massive planets orbiting much closer to their parent star than even Mercury does in our Solar system.  While the discovery of these planets is to some extent a selection effect - since their mass and orbital radius produce a large Doppler wobble - their existence has nonetheless presented exciting challenges for theories of planetary formation based on planetesimal accretion.  New theories on the evolution of planetary systems involving planetary migration and resonant capture are being developed to explain the existence of hot Jupiters, and the astrophysical mechanisms required to assemble gas giant planets close to their parent star are also an area of intense study.

The discovery of a wealth of new multi-planet systems is leading to new frontiers in the study of the dynamics of planetary systems.  Mathematical tools involving periodicity, chaos and resonance are being used to explain the diversity of systems observed and to study their stability.  Before the discovery of extrasolar planetary systems, dynamical study of planetary systems was focused on the solar system with its 8 planets and several large satellite systems typically exhibiting small eccentricities and near resonant orbits.

New discoveries show planets of large mass, large eccentricity, orbiting in close orbits to their star.  Strongly affected by gravitational interactions, these planets can only remain stable if trapped in mean motion resonances. Other planetary systems discovered with large period ratios exhibit apsidal locking due to significant non-resonant secular dynamics.  The analysis of the transition from secular to resonant dynamics, apsidal corotation resonances, planetary migration due to tidal interaction, capture into corotation resonances, and evolution after capture are proving very fruitful in their explanation and understanding of the newly observed planetary systems.

Recent meetings, such as the 2004 IAU colloquium on the Dynamics of Populations of Planetary Systems and the 2005 Winter Conference on Astrophysics, Aspen USA held on Planet Formation and Detection, have focused on extra solar planets and the richness of new data being discovered for modelling and understanding the architecture and dynamics of planetary systems.  It is now timely to hold a Summer School on the findings of these latest researches.  The School will  bring together young astronomers from a diverse range of fields involving the observation of extra-solar planets, the experimentation of detection methods, the study of formation theories, evolutionary models of planetary systems and the dynamics of planetary systems.  It will enable the exchange of new ideas across these fields to improve our understanding of our own solar system and its place in the diverse range of planetary systems discovered so far.

Programme Content

The lecture topics have been carefully selected and ordered to lead the student systematically from a strong element of review in tutorial form to a clear picture of the state-of-the-art of research being conducted. The standard of teaching will be aimed at young scientists at PhD level with an appropriate scientific background who wish to learn the basic foundation material needed to understand recent developments in the study of extrasolar planetary systems. Such a pedagogical treatment, bringing the participantsí understanding of the field up to the cutting edge, will not be found elsewhere in text or in tutorial form.

The series of lectures has been carefully designed to ensure that all relevant topics are covered in a fluent and interesting manner, with minimal overlap.  The proposed lecturers and lecture topics are listed here. Those lectures focusing primarily on foundation material have been allotted 4 hours to ensure there is enough time to teach the subject in an effective manner.

Participants will also have the opportunity to present their own research during seminar discussion sessions, in which the lecturers and their fellow participants will discuss and assess their work in a positive, constructive manner.   Participants can also make use of poster sessions to present their work.

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