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Our solar system is the most observationally constrained planetary system known, and understanding its rich dynamical history will help us characterize the prevalence of, and requirements for solar system analogs and habitable planets around other stars. Classic models of the formation of the four terrestrial planets tend to form Earth-sized planets where Mars is today. If this were the case, Mars might very well look like Earth does today. I investigate why Mars' growth stalled; leaving it behind as a planetary runt.
Many aspects of Mercury starkly contrast the qualities of the other seven planets. In addition to being the smallest world, dynamically speaking, its' orbit is extremely isolated from that of its neighbor Venus. Moreover, Mercury's bulk composition is also unique. Unlike the small iron core's of Earth, Venus and Mars; Mercury's core comprises around three quarters of its total mass. I study the peculiar conditions that conspired to generate such a small, dense and isolated world.
While accretion, differentiation and geological processes have largely erased the record of the inner solar system’s earliest epochs on the terrestrial planets themselves, much of this lost information can be decoded from the precise study of the asteroid belt’s distinctive orbital, mass and compositional distributions. Moreover, the asteroid belt is quite sensitive to the particular dynamical behavior of the giant planets, and thus presents a useful constraint on the relative importance of giant planet migration in terrestrial planet formation. I use the detailed catalog of ~100,000 observed asteroids to derive useful constraints on solar system formation models.
The possibility of a new planet residing in the far reaches of the outer solar system has captivated the public over the last several years. The existence of the so-called Planet X is inferred via patterns in the orbital shapes of extreme trans-Neptunian objects (ETNOs). Much like the asteroid belt, a complex record of the solar system's earliest epochs is fossilized in the unique orbital distributions of these objects. I investigate the processes that placed these remote bodies on their present orbits, with an eye towards deriving useful constraints on the Planet X hypothesis.
My Ph.D. research culminated in a new evolutionary model for the terrestrial planets. Unlike other explanations for the low mass of Mars and the lack of planets in the asteroid belt, our model explains the entire solar system (both the terrestrial planets and the giant planets) in a single dynamical scenario.