“Debris disks serve as invaluable archives, documenting processes that occurred during a planetary system’s lifetime, including gravitational interactions. My work entails deciphering these records.”

antranik sefilian, ph.d.

In the story of planet formation, debris disks stand as enduring relics. These expansive rings of rubble offer astronomers a window into each tumultuous chapter of planetary systems’ formation. By probing these reservoirs of cosmic clues, Antranik Sefilian, Ph.D., reveals fresh insights into planetary system formation, evolution, and architecture.

Dr. Sefilian’s first debris disk study was inspired by the peculiar orbits and clustering of some objects in the Kuiper Belt, a doughnut-shaped region of icy objects beyond the orbit of Neptune. Contrary to the prevailing scientific view attributing their features to a missing Planet Nine (a hypothetical ninth planet in the outer region of the Solar System), he provided theoretical models showing how the collective gravity of Kuiper Belt objects could account for the observations.

Artwork showing a section of the Kuiper Belt, crowded with the icy cores of potential comets. Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

Like the pull of distant particles, Dr. Sefilian’s own career has been guided by serendipity. He grew up in Lebanon, where opportunities in astrophysics are scarce. Yet, he found mentorship from the only theoretical astrophysicist working in planetary dynamics in the country.

During his fellowship, Dr. Sefilian will continue exploring gravitational interactions between planets and debris disks, collaborating with observers to test his predictions. His models can be adapted to many debris disk scenarios and simulate their evolution with unprecedented speed and adaptability. From unraveling the structures of debris disks, including warps and elliptical features, to simulating colliding debris, Dr. Sefilian’s research promises to transform our understanding of planetary systems.

Dr. Sefilian received a Ph.D. in applied mathematics and theoretical physics from the University of Cambridge in Spring 2022. Prior to starting his fellowship, Dr. Sefilian will continue to work as an Alexander von Humboldt fellow at the University of Jena in Germany.