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Investigations of Carbon and Oxygen in Young Stellar Objects and Implications for the Early Solar System

Dr. Rachel Smith
Dr. Rachel L. Smith
Head, Astronomy & Astrophysics Research Lab
Curator of Meteorites, NC Museum of Natural Sciences
Physics Auditorium (202)
Departmental Colloquium

In this talk, I will describe my ongoing results of high-resolution astronomical observations of young stellar objects (YSOs) across the Galaxy, and their unique windows into protoplanetary and pre-biotic chemistry. As analogues of the solar nebula, YSOs that are rich in CO isotopologues (12C16O, 13C16O, 12C18O, 12C17O) enable both the study of early exoplanetary systems as well as important comparisons with isotopic measurements in carbonaceous chondrites – the most primitive meteorites and relics of the early solar system. I will present our recent investigations of protoplanetary carbon and oxygen using the iSHELL spectrograph at NASA’s Infrared Telescope Facility on Maunakea, where we obtain near-infrared high-resolution (R ~ 80,000-90,000) data of CO in rovibration (2- and 4-microns) toward a range of YSO environments. Our results have so far revealed heterogeneity in 12CO/13CO in YSOs in our local solar neighborhood, signatures of CO self-shielding in some YSOs, and evidence that binary protostars (the most common configuration) may not follow identical chemical evolutionary pathways. I will also discuss how our recent experiments on interstellar ice analogues at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory help interpret the YSO data. Finally, I will introduce some new projects aimed at communicating research and mission data to the public as part of my role as a research scientist and curator at a large natural sciences museum.

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