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Centre to explore next frontier of planetary science

Professor Malcolm Campbell, UTSC's vice-principal of research, speaks to the Honourable Marc Garneau, Canada's first astronaut, during a reception on campus. The presentation by Mr. Garneau coincided with the launch of the Centre for Planetary Science that will be housed withing the Department of Physical and Environmental Science at UTSC. (Photo by Ken Jones)

The Centre for Planetary Science (CPS), an interdisciplinary, tri-campus centre dedicated to the study and exploration of planets both near and far was launched today (October 18) at the University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC).

The CPS will be hosted within the Department of Physical and Environmental Science at UTSC and will complement research already being done there on the origin and evolution of planets. The role of the CPS will be to bring together researchers and students from different disciplines dedicated to the exploration and study of planets both inside and outside our solar system. 

"When UTSC came into existence 50 years ago people were only able to speculate about planets beyond our own solar system. With the establishment of the Centre for Planetary Science, UTSC will be positioned at the forefront of the exciting task of describing the almost 1,000 worlds that have been discovered in the last 50 years," says Malcolm Campbell, vice-principal of research at UTSC.

Planetary science is experiencing a revolution of late with the discovery of a multitude of planets orbiting around distant stars. Astronomers are now designing observational strategies to find the first traces of life on remote, Earth-like worlds. They are also cataloguing the diversity of planets found around distant stars in order to determine the frequency of planets similar to Earth.

“Planetary Science is an exciting and emerging field with extensions to different fields of research within the Department of Physical and Environmental Science,” says Julian Lowman, associate chair of the physics and astrophysics group at UTSC. “This centre will provide a gathering point for researchers at U of T working across the spectrum of interests in planetary origins and evolution.”

Planetary scientists are also looking for life within our solar system from Mars to the distant moons of Saturn and Jupiter.  The recent discovery of solid rocky exoplanets is making both the knowledge of planetary science and geoscience essential to the interpretation of new astronomical data.

“This fertile convergence of ideas between geophysics, planetary science and astronomy is one that is growing stronger as exoplanet data accumulates,” says Kristen Menou, associate professor of theoretical astrophysics at UTSC. “Underpinning this exploration of planets both near and far is a strong desire to understand our existence on Earth in the greater cosmic context it deserves.”

The CPS will also administer an extensive visitor program and a competitive postdoctoral fellowship program in order to provide an academic forum for faculty, postdoctoral fellows and students dedicated to planetary science.  




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