About FOR 2285

Debris Disks in Planetary Systems

The Research Unit focuses on debris disks, dusty belts of comets and asteroids around stars. Like planets, these disks are a natural outcome of planet formation processes. They are able to tell us a lot about the history and architecture of planetary systems.

Der Staub einer simulierten Trümmerscheibe im gestreuten Sternlicht Standbild einer Laboraufnahme einer Kollision von Staubteilchen
A synthetic scattered-light image of a debris disk, based on theoretical models (Credits: Löhne, AIU/FSU Jena). The observed emission stems from numerous micrometer-sized dust grains generated in collisions of larger bodies. A cloud of such collisional fragments seen in a laboratory impact experiment (Credit: Blum, IGeP/TU Braunschweig).

The Research Unit is a collaborative effort of several institutes of the University of Jena, Technical University of Braunschweig, University of Kiel, and the Hamburg Observatory. We employ state-of-the-art theoretical and laboratory methods to deeply analyze a wealth of observational data available and to prepare future observations of debris disks.


Debris disks are belts of comets, asteroids, and their dust around main-sequence stars. This circumstellar material represents a natural component of planetary systems – just as planets themselves. The incidence rate of debris disks, about one-fifth for solar-type stars, is roughly comparable to the frequency of exoplanet detections with current techniques. Debris disks serve as tracers of planetesimals, which are not observable directly, and carry signatures of as yet undiscovered planets. They also reflect the accretion history of planetesimals and bear imprints of the dynamical evolution of the entire systems, including planetary migration and scattering. Warm debris dust observed in some of the systems may signalize the ongoing terrestrial planet formation, as well as violent dynamical instabilities leading to orbital re-arrangement of planets. Thus debris disks have a vast potential as a source of information on planetary systems, complementary to the direct studies on exoplanets and their host stars.

The proposed Research Unit will be the first large-scale concerted effort in the German research landscape to focus on debris disks. We will carry out analytic and numerical modeling of their collisional and dynamical evolution. We will also conduct impact experiments to simulate collisional processes and perform laboratory studies of interaction between debris dust and stellar radiation. Combining the theoretical and laboratory results, we will produce elaborate models of individual disk systems and explore statistics over larger samples. Our research will lean on a rich database of the observational data available and will deliver testable predictions for future observations. The primary goal of the Research Unit is to better understand the properties, operational modes, and diversity of debris disks. The ultimate aim is to identify and explore constraints posed by debris disks onto the architecture, formation, and evolution of planetary systems.


Spokesperson:  Prof. Dr. Alexander Krivov (AIU, Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena)
Deputy Spokesperson:  Prof. Dr. Sebastian Wolf (ITAP, Christian-Albrechts-University Kiel)
Secretary:  Annett Weise (AIU, Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena)
System administrator:  Dr. Frank Gießler (AIU, Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena)


Projects and people

Project P1: Collisional modeling of resolved debris disks (AIU/Jena)

Project P2: Sculpturing of debris disks by planets and companions (AIU/Jena)

Project P3: Origin of warm and hot dust and planetary system architecture (AIU/Jena)

Project P4: Observational appearance of debris disks (ITAP/Kiel)

Project P5: Dust opacity measurements for debris disks (AIU/Jena)

Project P6: Mechanical properties of solids in debris disks from impact experiments (IGeP/Braunschweig)

Project P7: Laser-based simulations of collisions and the structural state of dust (IGW/IAP/Jena)

Project P8: Ice-silicate-carbon mixtures in stellar UV fields (IFK/Jena)

Project P9: Photospheric and chromospheric models of debris disk host stars (Hamburg Observatory)

Project Z: Coordination (AIU/Jena)


Contact:  Professor Alexander Krivov
See also:  DFG press release
FSU/Jena press release