Nathan Kaib
Postdoctoral Fellow

Nathan Kaib

Research Interests

Formation and evolution of planetary systems in astrophysical environments; dynamics of small body reservoirs in the solar system; impact rates on solar system bodies; dynamics of extrasolar planets


B.S., Physics, Case Western Reserve University, 2002 Ph. D., Astronomy, University of Washington, 2010

Contact & Links

  • (202) 478-8813 | fax: (202) 478-8821
  • nkaib at
  • Earth and Planets Laboratory
    Carnegie Institution for Science
    5241 Broad Branch Road, NW
    Washington, DC 20015-1305
  • Curriculum Vitae
  • Publications


Nathan Kaib
Simulation of a distant binary star destroying a planetary system like our own. The pericenters and apocenters of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune are shown vs. time in red, yellow, cyan, and blue respectively. A 0.1 solar mass star is placed in a random orbit about the Sun and planets with an initial semimajor axis of 10,000 AU. The dotted and solid black lines show the binary's semimajor axis and periastron respectively as a function of time. Over time, perturbations from the Milky Way's tide and other passing field stars drive the binary's periastron toward the planets several times, which triggers the ejection of Uranus (after 3.5 Gyrs) and Neptune (after 7.2 Gyrs).

Nathan Kaib's research focuses on the formation and evolution of planetary systems, those of both our Sun and other stars. In our own solar system he's interested in how the orbital distribution of icy bodies beyond Neptune can constrain the Sun's birth cluster as well as the degree that the Sun has migrated within the Milky Way during its lifetime. In addition, he has been studying how the giant planets orbits have evolved over the history of the solar system and how this has affected the long-term stability of the inner terrestrial planets. Finally, he has recently been using simulations of terrestrial planet formation to determine the probability that the proto-Earth and the Moon-forming impactor (Theia) were isotopically identical. (The Moon and Earth have virtually identical oxygen isotope compositions.)

As far as exoplanetary systems are concerned, he has a strong interest in how the presence of a binary stellar companion can affect the formation and evolution of planets. Counterintuitively, he has shown that the most distantly orbiting stellar companions can have dramatic effects on planetary systems, causing violent instabilities billions of years after the planetary systems have formed. Kaib is currently investigating specific systems in which this may have occurred, such as HD80606 and HD20782.