Characterizing Planet-Forming Environments
The majority of young stars are surrounded by disks of gas and dust that will eventually serve as the foundation for planetary systems. These protoplanetary disks have been shown to possess a vast array of geometric properties and substructures that are most easily observed when the disks are inclined at an angle of at least 80 degrees, thus blocking the direct starlight. Using images of these “edge-on” disks taken with the Hubble Space Telescope, we can access key information about their structure, while gaining knowledge of how certain disk properties vary throughout the population. By quantitatively characterizing the shape of the disk, we gain information about its morphology and can draw comparisons between real and simulated disk images. This summer, we will be using machine learning to draw connections between the shape of the disks, which we can directly observe from images, and physical parameters such as mass that are more difficult to determine. Our aim is to use these relationships to constrain the physical parameters of observed disks, thus gaining more information about these planet-forming environments.