Date: 9th September 2020 TechExeter
Track: 2 Type of session: Talk
Start Time: 10:30 Level: No prior knowledge / entry-level

Looking where we cannot see - Using infrared light to reveal the secrets of planet formation

Note: Speaker information is preliminary and subject to change

Our eyes are brilliant – evolving to utilise the brightest portions of the sunlight that bathes planet Earth – but they are not without their limitations. They are insensitive to light at wavelengths shorter than about 400 nanometres (Violet light) and longer than about 700 nanometres (Red light). But there’s a wealth of information contained within these invisible wavelengths of light. Planets, for instance, form out of the cool disc-shaped reservoirs of dust and gas which exist around stars during their own formation. The cool temperatures of these discs means they shine at infra-red wavelengths. In my talk, I will introduce two techniques astronomers use to study these discs in the infrared and how the data extracted from these observations is analysed to better understand how planetary systems such as our own Solar System came into being.

Session takeaways

  • understand how colour relates to an object's ambient temperature
  • introduction to the field of observational astronomy with a focus on star and planetary system formation
  • understand how the data obtained at telescopes is processed for analysis


I'm Claire (she/her). I work as a scientific researcher in the Astrophysics Group at the University of Exeter, developing software and tools to obtain and analyse astronomical data. In particular, I use the techniques of interferometry, photometry, spectroscopy, and scattered light/polarimetric imaging to study the discs of gas and dust that exist around stars as they form. The ultimate goal is to better understand how planetary systems (such as our own Solar System) formed and what is responsible for their diverse characteristics.

My interest in diversity extends further: I am the founder and current chair of PRISM Exeter (@PRISMexeter on social media), a network for LGBTQ+ individuals and their allies working and studying in the local STEMM (science, tech, engineering, mathematics & medicine) sectors.

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