Thesis Defense: Katherine Deck (“The Orbital Dynamics And Long-Term Stability Of Planetary Systems”)

Monday May 12, 2014 1:30 pm
Marlar Lounge (37-252)

You are cordially invited to attend the following thesis defense:
“The Orbital Dynamics and Long-Term Stability of Planetary Systems”
Presented by Katherine Deck

Committee: Matthew Holman, Prof. Joshua Winn, Prof. Nevin Weinberg, Prof. Anna Frebel

A large population of low-mass exoplanets with short orbital periods has been discovered using the transit method. At least 40% of these planets are actually part of compact systems with more than one planet. The closeness of the planetary orbits in these multi-planet systems leads to strong dynamical interactions that imprint themselves on the transit light curve as transit timing variations (TTVs).  By modeling the orbital evolution of these planetary systems, one can fit the observed variations and strongly constrain the masses and orbits of the interacting planets, parameters which, given the faintness of the host stars, cannot be determined using other techniques.  This type of analysis is performed for KOI-984, a system with a single transiting planet perturbed by a non-transiting companion. By modeling the gravitational interaction between the planets using our code TTVFast, we are able to infer the masses and orbits of the two planets and to show that the orbits are distinctly non-coplanar. This discovery, a first for the low-mass multi-planet systems, indicates that dynamical processes that excite mutual inclinations are important for such systems.

The dynamical interactions that lead to observable TTVs can also lead to orbital instability and chaos. The Kepler 36 system has the closest confirmed pair of planets to date, with unique TTVs that tightly constrain the orbits, in turn allowing for detailed analysis of the long-term dynamics of the system. We find the system to be strongly chaotic, characterized by the very human timescale of ~10 years. We are able to understand the source of this rapid chaos, and to show that despite its presence, the system can be long-lived. But how compact can two planetary orbits be before being unstable? We consider more generally the long-term stability of two-planet systems within the framework of first-order resonance overlap. We determine a stability criterion for close pairs of planets which we then compare to other analytic criteria and to numerical integrations. This work provides a step towards understanding the long-term evolution of more complex planetary systems.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Best of luck to Katherine!