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.

Project Status
Searching for Explosive or Eruptive Variables in the SkyMapper Transient Survey Potential
A high-altitude survey for nearby supernova Potential
Accretion and outflow in young stellar objects Completed
Archaeology of the Milky Way Potential
Asteroids studies with the Kepler Space Telescope for Future Asteroid Mining Potential, Current
Blue-stragglers in open clusters: when and how stellar mergers occur? Potential
Characterising target selection effects in stellar surveys Potential
Computational Astrophysics Laboratory Current
Data Archives Current
Finding transient objects with HAT-South Completed
Finding Young Stellar Associations with Chronostar Potential
Following up HAT-South transiting planet candidates Completed
Fyris Current
High-speed imaging in the near-infrared Potential
Infrared surveys with the Siding Spring Transient Factory Potential, Current
Interspacecraft Metrology for Formation Flying Nanosats Potential
Metal SLUG - Developing a tool for stochastic nucleosynthesis Potential
Mid-Infrared Nulling Interferometry for Exoplanet Detection Potential
Not all stars are solar--so why model them that way? Potential
Oscillations in red giants Completed
Quantifying the potential biosphere of Mars Completed
Signatures of planet ingestion among binary stars Potential
SkyMapper Southern Sky Survey Current
Stellar magnetic fields and stellar spectra Potential
The Galactic helium-to-metal enrichment ratio Potential
The Initial Mass Function in the most extreme star-forming environments Potential
The Kepler Extra-Galactic Survey - Supernovae, Black Holes, and Cosmology Potential
The Kepler/K2 field: bridging stellar and Galactic astronomy Potential
The Oldest Stars in the Universe Potential
The Oldest Stars in the Universe Potential
The Pyxis Space Interferometer Prototype Potential
Understanding the abundance spread in star clusters Potential
Uniting optical and infrared spectroscopy with GALAH and APOGEE Potential
What can life on Earth tell us about life in the universe? Current
What new information can we extract from stellar spectra? Potential
What type of planets might we measure with the Giant Magellan Telescope? Potential