Rahul Patel: FIU grad ingraduate school in astronomy!

Alt text

Rahul Patel who graduated from FIU in Physics in 2009, is currently working on discovering extra-Solar planets at Stony-Brook University. While at FIU, Rahul worked with Dr. Rajamani Narayan on lattice QCD and also with Dr. Werner Boeglin in the field of plasma fusion physics. Rahul was awarded a McNair Scholarship while here at FIU. In addition to excelling in classes and research, Rahul was also the president of the award winning Society of Physics chapter. As SPS advisor, I had the privilege of working closely with Rahul and was impressed by his attention to detail and enthusiasm. I was delighted to find out he chose to go to graduate school in astronomy! Great choice if I do say so myself. The following is a brief summary of his current research at Stony Brook.

"Close to a 900 extra-solar planets have been confirmed thus far. The majority were detected by indirect methods—the dimming of a star's intensity as the planet transits between the light and our line of sight or the radial velocity signature from the star-planet tug of war. But these methods limit us to finding close-in planets—closer to their star than Mercury is to the Sun, and constrain us to studying the inner architecture of these systems, which frankly look nothing like our own solar system. We then have to ask ourselves—is our solar system one of a kind, or it truly an observational bias? How many solar system analogues are out there?

My thesis aims to help answer these questions by detecting and studying "dusty disks" around other stars, and thus probing the "outer" architecture of potential planetary systems. Our own solar system hosts a debris disk comprised of the asteroid, Kuiper and zodiacal belts. Our debris disk is thought to have formed from the leftover material after the planets formed and the gravitational and collisional interactions it had with our planets. Hundreds of such debris disk systems are known today around other stars at various stages in their evolution. The detected dust is thought to be replenished through similar collisional events between leftover material and perhaps large planetesimals. Thus any disks with similar architecture to our own may hold the key to answering the above questions.

Typically, these dust belts can be found by searching for their signature at infrared wavelengths. The dust will absorb the star light and re-emit in the infrared. The star seems brighter than it would be at those wavelengths, which points to a certain amount of dust in the system. Using newly discovered stars with disks that I have found, I aim to determine the frequency of planetary systems analogous to our own by tracking the evolution of the detected dust.

At the same time, since our outer solar system encompasses 4 large gas giant planets, my adviser—Dr. Stan Metchev—and I are conducting a mini survey to directly image these debris disk host stars to spatially resolve the disk structure as well as catch a glimpse of previously undiscovered Jovian sized planets. This will complement the initial project and aims to further our understanding of planetary system evolution.

Facilities in use: Archived data from the Wide Field Infrared Survey Explorer, Hipparcos mission and 2-Micron All Sky Survey, along with the 5-m Hale Telescope, 4-m Mayall Telescope and 3.9-m Anglo Australian Telescope."

We are all very proud of Rahul and are very interested to see his progress as he moves toward his PhD. Thanks for writing!!

Dr. Webb