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Physics Research Could Explain Origins of Gas Giant Planets

By: Kathleen Tuck   Published 7:15 am / October 14, 2016

Graphic illustration of an ultra-short-period planet being pulled into a star.

Credit: Frank Reddy

Assistant professor of physics Brian Jackson has been selected to receive a two-year, $166,000 grant from NASA’s Exoplanets Research Program for a proposal titled “Unstable Roche-Lobe Overflow of Gaseous Planets.”

Jackson will work with Boise State University undergraduate physics majors and researchers at Princeton University and the University of Virginia to investigate the origin of ultra-short-period planets (USPs), which are roughly Earth-sized bodies so close to their host stars that they nearly skim the stellar surface. More than 100 such objects have been discovered in recent years.

Jackson and his collaborators will apply sophisticated astrophysical models to explore the hypothesis that these planets originated as the cores of gas giant planets whose atmospheres were disrupted by their host stars. If this hypothesis turns out to be correct, then USPs may provide an unprecedented glimpse into the poorly understood origins of gas giants like Jupiter and Saturn.

Jackson’s collaborator, Elisabeth Adams, will talk about their group’s work looking for new USPs in a public lecture at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 4, in Room 101 of the Multipurpose Classroom Building on the Boise State campus.