Institute of Astronomy

Geology of Rocky Exoplanets (Amy Bonsor)

We have discovered >300 rocky exoplanets, and in the next decades we will detect hundreds more. Are these rocky planets similar or radically different to Earth? The history of our own planet Earth is dominated by geological processes. The aim of this project is to study the geology of these other worlds. This pushes forwards a new frontier in our understanding of exo-planets, made possible by a unique set of observations. 

The faint remnants of stars like our Sun, known as white dwarfs, provide a unique opportunity to study the composition and geology of exoplanetary material. Metallic species such as iron and magnesium from rocky planetary bodies show up in the spectra of white dwarfs that should have pure hydrogen or helium atmospheres. These can be used to study what rocky planets are made from, as well as providing evidence for geological processes such as core formation. 

My work aims to use a mixture of theory, strongly linked to observations, to better understand how planetary material arrives in the atmospheres of white dwarfs, how these observations can be used to inform and understanding of geology in exoplanetary systems and what they mean for the properties of the population of rocky exoplanets in the nearby Universe. The PhD students would have the opportunity to follow their own interests and expertise to devise the ideal PhD project for them. 

Project title:  The Geology of Rocky Exoplanets

Dr Amy Bonsor

The abundances of rocky elements seen in the atmospheres of white dwarfs provide the first insights regarding geological processes on-going in exoplanetary systems. This project will use the observed abundances in white dwarf atmospheres to constrain how planetary bodies differentiated, relating this to how common differentiation might be in exoplanetary systems. 


This studentship is open to Home and EU students only.

Application Information: 

Please follow the instructions given on the IoA's admissions page you can then apply for the PhD in Astronomy on the Graduate Admissions website

To apply for this studentship, include the text "I wish to be considered for the "Geology of Rocky Exoplanets studentship with Amy Bonsor" in Your Statement of Interest [Course specific questions section] of the application form.

It is also possible to be considered for an STFC-funded studentship simultaneously. To be considered for both include the text "I wish to be considered for the Geology of Rocky Exoplanets studentship with Amy Bonsor and an STFC studentship" in Your Statement of Interest [Course specific questions section] of the application form.

Application Deadline Date: 

3 January 2019


Page last updated: 15 August 2018 at 13:08