Anne’s MSc thesis project is to detect debris disks around young low-mass stars by looking for an excess flux from these stars in the mid-infrared (MIR). Several theories of stellar evolution indicate that the presence of such a circumstellar disk is a hint that a star is young and that a planetary system was formed, and therefore it is a signpost for the presence of exoplanets. The search for debris disks is therefore essential to develop a better understanding of how planets form and to identify new target stars around which to search for planets. For this project, the focus is on disks around low-mass stars and brown dwarfs. Anne’s initial sample of stars comes from candidates young stars that were discovered by graduates students and researchers from iREx.
After compiling a list of the best candidates showing an infrared excess, Anne will obtain visible and near-infrared spectra of them, firstly to confirm the excess and secondly to determine the properties of the host star, which is essential to model correctly the thermal emission of the disk. Then, for some targets, she will get new photometric measurements in the MIR to better constrain the spectral energy distribution of the observed excess. Eventually, using a radiative transfer code coupled to a model of debris disc, she will be able to determine the size and mass of the disc as well as the temperature of the grains.
This research will allow the scientific community to better understand the process of formation of planetary systems around low-mass stars and brown dwarfs. Indeed, the properties of debris disks around these types of stars are still very poorly constrained observationally. Low-mass stars offer the best opportunity to study the atmospheres of habitable terrestrial planets that could possibly be orbiting them. That is why it is so important to understand the formation mechanism of planets around them.
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