Benjamin Zuckerman

Benjamin Zuckerman
Professor Emeritus
Astronomy

Office: 3-929 PAB
Phone: (310) 825-9338
E-Mail: [javascript protected email address]
Website

Educational Background: 
  • S.B., Physics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1963
  • S.M., Aeronautics & Astronautics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1963
  • Ph.D., Astronomy, Harvard University, 1968
Areas of Specialization: 

Environmental Interests: Professor Zuckerman believes that if astronomy is to have a viable future then people must confront the declining environmental health of the world. Unfortunately, major U.S. environmental organizations too often react to symptoms of environmental decline rather than to underlying causes. To illustrate one astronomy-related aspect of a world "civilization" seriously out of whack, consider a peopled mission to Mars, a wonderful project that would enlighten the spirit and knowledge of all mankind. According to leaders of the Mars Society, such a mission would cost of order 30 billion dollars. This may sound expensive, but when one realizes that in a typical year the USA spends 10 times this amount on its military budget, and such military expenditures go on year after year after year, by comparison $30 billion is not much money. Yet, a peopled mission to Mars is very unlikely in the foreseeable future. This huge imbalance in spending between something so fundamentally negative as the military and something so positive as exploration of Mars, is a sad and ultimately dangerous commentary on our country and the world. Current annual U.S. expenditure on astronomy is significantly less than the cost of a Mars mission. But if the U.S. and world environments become stressed too severely, then support of astronomy at anything like current levels may one day be regarded as an unaffordable luxury.

Research Interest: 

The primary focus of Dr. Zuckerman's recent research is the origin and evolution of planetary systems. Along with his students and other research colleague he has been investigating material in planetary systems that orbit around stars in a wide variety of evolutionary states and with ages that range from as young as 8 million years to as old as billions of years. In particular, the systems under investigation include some that are pre-main sequence, some on the main sequence, some post-main sequence giant stars, and some white dwarfs. The planetary systems under investigation include some types never before seen in astronomy.

The observational techniques utilized in the various programs include optical spectroscopy, infrared photometry, infrared and microwave imaging and X-ray photometry. Discoveries include the first images of extrasolar planets orbiting around brown dwarfs and around stars (other than the Sun) and the first reasonably good evidence for rocky planets orbiting an old extrasolar star. The evidence for the latter is somewhat indirect and consists of detection of the huge quantities of dusty debris resulting from collision of two old rocky planets, much as if Mercury should wander out of its orbit and collide with Venus or Earth. As part of a different research project, the bulk elemental composition of ancient extrasolar asteroids was measured using the photospheres of "polluted white dwarfs as detectors for material that previously resided inside of asteroids. There exists no other technique in astronomy capable of measuring the composition of such minor (low mass) extrasolar planetary bodies.

Selected Publications: 
  • "Planetary Systems around Close Binary Stars: the Case of the Very Dusty, Sun-like, Spectroscopic Binary BD+20 307", Astrophysical Journal 688, 1345, 2008
  • "Molecules in the disk orbiting the twin young suns of V4046 Sagittarii",Astronomy & Astrophysics 492, 469, 2008
  • "Direct Imaging of Multiple Planets Orbiting the Star HR 8799",Science 322, 1348, 2008
  • "Gas and Dust Associated with the Strange, Isolated Star BP Piscium", Astrophysical Journal 683, 1085, 2008
  • "Warm Dust in the Terrestrial Planet Zone of a Sun-like Pleiades Star: Collisions between Planetary Embryos?", Astrophysical Journal 675, 777, 2008
  • "The Chemical Composition of an Extrasolar Minor Planet.", Astrophysical Journal 671, 872, 2007
  • "Externally Polluted White Dwarfs with Dust Disks", Astrophysical Journal 663, 1285, 2007
  • "HST NICMOS Imaging of the Planetary-mass Companion to the Young Brown Dwarf" 2MASSW J1207334-393254", Astrophysical Journal 652, 724, 2006
  • "A companion to AB Pic at the planet/brown dwarf boundary ", Astronomy & Astrophysics 438, L29, 2005
  • "Giant planet companion to 2MASSW J1207334-393254 ", Astronomy & Astrophysics 438, L25, 2005

In addition to the above research papers, Prof. Zuckerman has edited two books that deal with exciting astronomical topics ("Extraterrestrials, Where Are They?" and "The Origin and Evolution of the Universe") and another ("Human Population and the Environmental Crisis") that concerns the major problem of our time.