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What makes exoplanets habitable? BARBARA ERCOLANO pursues this overarching question by focusing on the birth sites of these planets. Planets are born in the circumstellar disk that surrounds every young star. The specific research question presented in this video centers on the star TW Hydrae, which is very close to earth. The researchers investigated whether the T Tauri star “TW Hydrae” has a protoplanetary disk that is on the verge of dispersal. At this stage these disks affect the formation of planetary systems. Observations from ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter Array) show that there is a hole at the center of TW Hydrae. Using numerical simulations to construct a theoretical model that fits all the observations of the star, the researchers established that the most likely explanation of this hole is that TW Hydrae is really about to disperse. This finding suggests TW Hydrae as a perfect case study for understanding this crucial element in the development of protoplanetary disks.


Barbara Ercolano is Professor of Theoretical Astrophysics at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich. Previous affiliations include the University of Exeter, the University of Cambridge, Harvard University and University College London. Her research interests currently focus on star and planet formation, interstellar medium evolution and enrichment, as well as computational methods and radiative transfer. In 2010, she was awarded the Royal Astronomical Society Fowler Price for Early Career Achievements.


Original publication

The Dispersal of Planet-forming Discs: Theory Confronts Observations

Ercolano Barbara and Pascucci Ilaria
Royal Society Open Science
Published in 2017

A Photoevaporative Gap in the Closest Planet-forming Disc

Ercolano Barbara, Rosotti Giovanni P., Picogna Giovanni and Testi Leonardo
Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society: Letters
Published in 2017

The Link Between Disc Dispersal by Photoevaporation and the Semimajor Axis Distribution of Exoplanets

Ercolano Barbara and Rosotti Giovanni
Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Published in 2015