Benjamin M. Zuckerman
S.B., Physics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1963
S.M., Aeronautics & Astronautics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1963
Ph.D., Astronomy, Harvard University, 1968
The primary focus of Dr. Zuckerman's recent research is the origin and evolution of planetary systems. Along with his students and other research colleague he has been investigating material in planetary systems that orbit around stars in a wide variety of evolutionary states and with ages that range from as young as 8 million years to as old as billions of years. In particular, the systems under investigation include some that are pre-main sequence, some on the main sequence, some post-main sequence giant stars, and some white dwarfs. The planetary systems under investigation include some types never before seen in astronomy.
The observational techniques utilized in the various programs include optical spectroscopy, infrared photometry, infrared and microwave imaging and X-ray photometry. Discoveries include the first images of extrasolar planets orbiting around brown dwarfs and around stars (other than the Sun) and the first reasonably good evidence for rocky planets orbiting an old extrasolar star. The evidence for the latter is somewhat indirect and consists of detection of the huge quantities of dusty debris resulting from collision of two old rocky planets, much as if Mercury should wander out of its orbit and collide with Venus or Earth. As part of a different research project, the bulk elemental composition of ancient extrasolar asteroids was measured using the photospheres of "polluted white dwarfs as detectors for material that previously resided inside of asteroids. There exists no other technique in astronomy capable of measuring the composition of such minor (low mass) extrasolar planetary bodies.