Jessica K. Donaldson
Circumstellar disks; Planet formation; Observational astrophysics
B.A., Astronomy & Physics, Boston University, 2009 M.S, Astronomy, University of Maryland, College Park, 2011 Ph.D., Astronomy, University of Maryland, College Park, 2014
Jessica Donaldson's research focuses on understanding the last stages of planet formation by observing circumstellar environments. Specifically, she tries to determine the composition of dust grains in young debris disks which may be the sites of ongoing planet formation. Dust grain composition can provide clues to the bulk composition of the larger parent bodies that can deliver volatile material such as water to still-forming rocky planets.
Donaldson's previous work has been on observing young debris disks in the far-infrared where the dust is much brighter than the star. Using the Herschel Space Observatory, she was able to map the spectral energy distributions of faint disks and determine that one disk, HD32297, showed signs that may be indicative of comet-like grains. Currently, Donaldson is following up this disk by observing it with the Hubble Space Telescope to get optical spectra at different distances from the star to see if the dust composition changes with distance.