Stellar and planetary astronomy


Stellar astronomy

Stars and stellar systems may contain only a tiny fraction of the mass in the universe, but they are responsible for the chemical diversity of matter that allows life to exist. Observational and theoretical astronomers at RSAA study how stars form and evolve, and the processes that occur within them at the various stages of their lives, through work that includes:

  • forming comprehensive models of the physical processes that occur in stellar atmospheres, and comparing these to detailed observations of stellar spectra
  • modelling the processes of nucleosynthesis that occur in stars to understand how the elements are formed in their interiors
  • discovering and investigating the nature of the oldest stars to trace the origins of the elements and chemical evolution of the galaxy 
  • studying the different evolutionary phases of stars and investigating stellar pulsation and variability.

Planetary science

RSAA partners with the Research School of Earth Sciences (RSES) at ANU to form the the ANU Planetary Science Institute. This collaboration aims to capitalise on the strengths of the two schools to increase our cross-disciplinary understanding of the life cycle and diversity of planets, through discovery and the critical study of the formation, evolution, and fate of planetary systems throughout the Milky Way, including our own Solar System.

Planetary scientists at RSAA study:

  • the conditions required for life to form, and where these might occur in our solar system
  • the cosmological prerequisites for the formation of terrestrial planets and life
  • how to predict and understand the distribution of planets around other stars
  • the construction of theoretical models of how planets form from the dusty debris around young stars.

Searching for extrasolar planets

Astronomers at RSAA are involved in a number of projects that aim to find and study planets outside our own Solar System, and to help answer the universal question of whether life exists elsewhere in the universe.  

RSAA is a member of the HAT-South project (Hungarian-made Automated Telescopes), operating two HAT-South telescopes at Siding Spring Observatory. This project is using fully automated arrays of small telescopes at three different locations around the southern hemisphere to monitor hundred of thousands of stars in the galaxy, looking for the characteristic dip in brightness that might signal that an orbiting planet is passing in front of the host star.

Researchers at RSAA, and their colleagues in the project from Princeton University and the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, analyse the data that is collected for candidate planetary systems, and then perform detailed follow-up observations with larger telescopes to confirm discoveries and measure the density, temperature, and even atmospheric composition of the planets that are found.


This project will use observations of star clusters with the Hubble Space Telescope to disentangle the multi scale nature of star formation in local spiral galaxies.

Student intake

Open for Honours students


This project has two components: developing the science case for the instrument, defining the mission parameters that are necessary to ensure the science goals are achieved; and, for a student so inclined, physically building the telescope and camera system.

Student intake

Open for Bachelor, Honours, PhD students


Obtaining a good understanding of the physics of star formation remains one of the main problems in astrophysics today. The formation of stars determines the structure, evolution and luminosity of galaxies, and quite possibly contributed to the reionisation of the early Universe.

Student intake

Open for PhD students


Ambitious students will investigate optimal ways to measure the stellar properties (eg Teff, age, mass) and chemical composition of this immense amount of data.

Measuring asteroid properties with the Kepler Space Telescope to find Future Asteroid Mining Targets

Student intake

Open for Bachelor, Honours, PhD students


The Computational Astrophysics Laboratory, or COALA, is a high-performance computing (HPC) system that is available to theorists and astronomers at RSAA. It is used for data analysis, numerical simulations, visualisation for public outreach, and for research training at the school.



Christoph Federrath

Associate Director HDR
Former ARC Future and Stromlo Fellow


Academy announces 2024 Fellows for outstanding contributions to science

The Australian Academy of Science announces 2024 Fellows for outstanding contributions to science.

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The Australian Research Council has announced that the Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics has won funding for two prestigious Future Fellowships.

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