Alycia J. Weinberger
Observational astrophysics; planet formation and circumstellar disks; young stars; high angular resolution imaging
B.A., Physics, University of Pennsylvania, 1991 Ph.D., Physics, California Institute of Technology, 1998
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.