Alycia J. Weinberger
Staff Scientist

Alycia Weinberger

Research Interests

Observational astrophysics; planet formation and circumstellar disks; young stars; high angular resolution imaging

Academics

B.A., Physics, University of Pennsylvania, 1991 Ph.D., Physics, California Institute of Technology, 1998

Contact & Links

  • (202) 478-8852 | fax: (202) 478-8821
  • aweinberger at carnegiescience.edu
  • Department of Terrestrial Magnetism
    Carnegie Institution of Washington
    5241 Broad Branch Road, NW
    Washington, DC 20015-1305
  • curriculum vitae
  • Publications
  • Personal Website

Overview

Meet DTM Staff Scientist, Alycia Weinberger!
Alycia Weinberger Research
The star TW Hydrae is between 5 and 10 million years old, and should be in the final throes of planet formation before its disk dissipates. This image from the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) shows a deficit of material, i.e. a partial gap, at about 80 AU from the star. The gap is consistent with what would be created by a 6-30 Earth mass planet within it. Weinberger and her colleagues have imaged TW Hya at seven wavelengths with HST to understand not only whether planets have formed, but also what conditions can result in planet formation and what chemical constituents are available for new planets. Although the observations were designed to be able to detect large water ice grains in the surface layer of the disk, these grains weren't seen. Icy grains have probably grown and sunk to the midplane of the disk where they can aggregate into water-rich planets. References: "The 0.5-2.22 micron Scattered Light Spectrum of the Disk around TW Hya: Detection of a Partially Filled Disk Gap at 80 AU" by Debes, J. H., Jang-Condell, H., Weinberger, A. J., Roberge, A. & Schneider, G. 2013, ApJ, 771, 45; "Spatially Resolved Spectroscopy and Coronagraphic Imaging of the TW Hydrae Circumstellar Disk" by Roberge, A., Weinberger, A. J., & Malumuth, E. M. 2005, ApJ, 622, 1171 and "Infrared Views of the TW Hydra Disk" by A. J. Weinberger, E. E. Becklin, G. Schneider, E. I. Chiang, P. J. Lowrance, M. Silverstone, B. Zuckerman, D. C. Hines, and B. A. Smith, 2002, ApJ, 566, 409

Alycia Weinberger wants to understand how planets form, so she observes young stars and their disks, the birthplaces of planets, as well as finding and studying planetary systems.

Studies of the disks surrounding nearby stars help us determine what the conditions for planet formation really are. 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 to tease apart disks. She has a long-standing interest in ultra-high spatial resolution imaging using advanced instrumentation on the ground and in space. For example, with the Hubble Space Telescope, 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. With the Large Binocular Telescope Interferometer, she is searching for faint remnant disks, such as the Solar System’s Zodiacal cloud, that betray the presence of planets and asteroids that might otherwise not be known.

Study of the young stars that host and illuminate disks also inform our ideas of planet formation, because stellar and planetary evolution happens contemporaneously. 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.