Embedded Disks: Exploring the nurseries of planets

Name of applicant

Michael Küffmeier


Postdoctoral Fellow


Max-Planck-Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics Munich-Garching


DKK 1,334,473



Type of grant

Reintegration Fellowships


A star forms in a cloud of gas and dust when the material becomes dense enough to collapse. During the collapse, the rotation of material leads to the formation of a circumstellar disk. Planets such as the ones in our Solar System form in these disk. Therefore, the following two statements are well accepted in the scientific community: Disks are a by-product of star formation. Disks are the birthplaces of planets. The goal of this project is to study these disks in more detail to provide a better understanding of the nurseries of planets. This implies to account for the diversity of protostellar environments in which disks form, and whether this diversity leaves a chemical fingerprint on the disks or ultimately on planets.


Until recently, it was common practice to assume that planets only form millions of years after stellar birth, and to therefore consider star and planet formation as independent processes. While the presumed timing of planet formation “millions of years” after stellar birth may seem to be just a detail, it is of key importance. It is the main reason why star and planet formation have been studied independently from each other for decades. However, observations with modern telescopes show that planet formation begins much earlier than previously thought and disks are shorter lived than assumed in classical models of planet formation. This implies that the star and planet formation are much more interlinked than previously believed. It means that the disks are still fed with fresh material from the protostellar environment during the onset of planet formation. In particular, infalling material can refresh the chemical composition in the disk. This also raises the question to what extent the complexity of molecules in planetary systems such as the Solar System is inherited from their birth environment.


Conducting novel 3D magnetohydrodynamical multi-scale simulations of disks that are embedded in their parental Giant Molecular Clouds (GMCs), I will be able to self-consistently account for infall, while simultaneously studying the effect of low ionization. This is possible by using a code framework that has been primarily developed by researchers at the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen and by running simulations on European supercomputers. This allows me to investigate how the formation of disks is regulated by the interplay of infall and magnetic fields. Moreover, the models allow us to trace the chemical evolution from the cloud to the disk. This will help us to better understand the underlying kinematics in gas observations with high-resolution interferometers such as ALMA and NOEMA, or the space-based telescope JWST. The ultimate goal is to study the entire hierarchy from a turbulent GMC down to the formation of a planet forming in a young disk in one self-consistent model.

Back to listing page