SSP

Research in the Solar, Stellar, and Planetary Sciences (SSP) Division is directed toward understanding star and planet formation and the physical processes in the Sun, stars, and stellar systems. Division research on the Sun addresses its basic stellar properties, its atmosphere and corona, and its effects on the Earth. Studies of other stars seek to measure the age and chemical composition and to understand the structure of surrounding disks, magnetic fields, and winds. Searches for objects in our own solar system and for extra-solar planets inform theoretical investigations of star and planet formation and evolution. Observational data are obtained from ground-based observatories (such as the MMT Observatory, Magellan, and the Whipple Observatory) and from satellites including the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, the Transition Region and Coronal Explorer, the Far Ultraviolet Spectrographic Explorer, the Hubble Space Telescope, the Chandra X-ray Observatory, and the Spitzer Space Telescope.

Planet Formation

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Newborn planets produce rings of dust grains along their orbits

Every planetary system forms in a thin disk of gas and dust orbiting a young star. Small dust grains, a micron or two in size, collide and merge into large aggregates that settle into the midplane of the disk. In the midplane, aggregates grow into planetesimals with diameters of roughly 1 km. Collisions between planetesimals produce planets. SSP scientists use theoretical calculations to understand how dust grains evolve and how planetesimals become planets.

Astrophysical Plasma Spectroscopy

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Theoretical spectrum of a plasma with lines of H I, He II, [Fe VII], and Raman scattered O VI.

A plasma is an ionized gas consisting of ions (atoms with some of their electrons removed) and free electrons. Hot plasmas are found throughout the universe: in the magnetic field structures above the surface of stars like the Sun, in the media between stars and galaxies, and in the surroundings of an exploded star known as a supernova remnant. Highly ionized gas is also found in the environments surrounding black holes.

Solar Physics

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UVCS records light from ions of oxygen in the solar corona

Our Sun is an excellent laboratory for studying the everyday phenomena of a typical star. SSP scientists are experts in analyzing observations and developing theoretical models of the solar atmosphere, which produces the light we see and where powerful magnetic fields produce hot plasma and accelerate high energy particles that interact with the atmospheres of the Earth and other planets.

Kepler

The Kepler Mission, a NASA Discovery satellite, is designed to survey our region of the Milky Way galaxy to discover Earth-size and smaller planets in or near the habitable zone for life. CfA was responsible for preparing the Kepler Input Catalog, which is being used by the mission to select optimum targets. CfA will also be involved in follow-up observations of interesting candidates identified by Kepler.

3 Kepler

Scott J. Kenyon

Scott Kenyon works primarily as a theorist, using numerical simulations to explore the formation and evolution of planetary systems, the origin and spatial distribution of hypervelocity and runaway stars in the Milky Way, and the physical structure and the evolution of interacting binary systems. He completed a B. S. in Physics at Arizona State University and a Ph. D. in Astronomy at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. After a CfA Fellowship, he joined the permanent Federal staff.

Jets and Shocks

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N49

Jets and shocks are important topics in modern astrophysics. Newly-formed stars eject highly collimated jets of gas into molecular clouds. When a massive star explodes, its rapidly expanding atmosphere produces a shock wave in the surrounding material. SSP scientists use observations and theory to study the formation and evolution of jets and shocks.

Kurucz Database/Models

Bob Kurucz maintains a large database of atomic and molecular linelists and opacities for stellar atmosphere calculations. The database includes grids of model atmospheres for the Sun and other stars.

Solar, Stellar, and Planetary Sciences (SSP)

Research in the SSP Division is directed toward understanding star and planet formation and the physical processes in the Sun, stars, and stellar systems. Division research on the Sun addresses its basic stellar properties, its atmosphere and corona, and its effects on the Earth. Studies of other stars seek to measure the age and chemical composition and to understand the structure of surrounding disks, magnetic fields, and winds. Searches for objects in our own solar system and for extra-solar planets inform theoretical investigations of star and planet formation and evolution.

Division Image
Caption: 

Super-Earths form in super snowstorms. Learn more ...

Affiliation: 
Contact Information
Associate Director: 

Dr. Andrew Szentgyorgyi 617-495-7397

Division Administrator: 

Ms. Nayla Rathle (617) 495-7280

Division Administrative Specialist: 

Ms. Kathy Campbell (617) 495-7179

Division Web Contact: 

Dr. Scott J. Kenyon (617) 495-7235

SSP Staff List

Please add .harvard.edu to all email addresses.
Anantua, Mr. Richard SSP Email: ranantua@cfa Phone: 617-495-7585
Room: P-231 MS-51 Fax:
Angus, Ms. Ruth SSP Email: ruth.angus@cfa Phone:

Early Universe

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structures in the early universe

Within a second or two after the Big Bang, protons and neutrons start to combine into atomic nuclei (hydrogen, helium, and traces of lithium, beryllium, and boron). Roughly 300,000 years later, the Universe became cold enough for electrons to combine with atomic nuclei and form atoms.

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