Til Birnstiel receives ERC Consolidator Grant

23 Nov 2023

Through Consolidator Grants, the European Research Council (ERC) helps excellent scientists expand and consolidate their innovative research.

On average, every star in the universe is orbited by at least one planet. We can therefore safely conclude that planet formation must be a robust process. However, astrophysicists still do not understand exactly how planets come about. Current models are usually based on very simple assumptions, such as smooth gas disks in which planetesimals, that is, the precursors of planets, already exist everywhere.

More recent findings, by contrast, show that substructures already exist in the early stages of the disks and can play a decisive role in planet formation. There are also episodic bursts of luminosity that can heat up the planet-forming disk and thus permanently change the composition of the planetary building blocks. Until now, however, there has been a lack of suitable techniques for modeling these dynamic, complex systems on the computer.

This is where EARLYBIRD (Early Build-up of Ringed Planet-Forming Disks) from Til Birnstiel comes in. The goal of his project is to trace the planet-forming material and its composition from the initial formation of planetesimals and eventually planets, showing how these processes are reflected in observed disks and in the properties of exoplanets. Drawing on pioneering work on the growth and transport of dust particles, EARLYBIRD will employ highly innovative 3D modeling techniques that are two orders of magnitude faster than previous approaches.

Til Birnstiel has been Professor of Theoretical Astrophysics at LMU since February 2017, where he heads a research group on planet formation.