PhD in Physical Studies of Comets and Asteroids


QUB has an established history of the physical characterisation of comets and asteroids in our Solar system. Optical observations of inert cometary nuclei allows constraining of their radii and searches for weak activity. Studies of comets within 5AU of the sun allows mass-loss rates and compositional studies. Similarly, photometry of asteroids allows the measurement of lightcurves to constrain shapes and internal densities, and the compositions, while spectroscopy allows the constraining of surface composition. Previous and current projects include membership of the ESA/Rosetta ground-based support team and the Pan-STARRS Inner Solar System Survey.


We are looking for an enthusiastic PhD student to analyse existing data and obtain new observations of comets and asteroids. The student will join a growing group of astrophysicists at QUB, using both observations and modelling to understand the origin and evolution of bodies in our Solar system.

This work will be within one of two main areas.

(a) Spectroscopy and photometry of comets in our Solar system, measuring dust and gas mass-loss rates from active cometary bodies. We are currently exploiting optical spectrographs and cameras on 2-m to 4-m class telescopes for this programme.

(b) Analysis of Pan-STARRS photometry of main-belt and near-Earth asteroids, to constrain lightcurves and spin rates, and identify objects with extreme lightcurves. This would be an extension of an initial study of the first 1.2 years of Pan-STARRS data, which has led to identification of several interesting asteroids in the main asteroid belt.

Both of these projects are heavily dependent on observational data. Facilities used in the last 3 years for these projects include the ING INT and WHT, the ESO VLT and NTT, and the Liverpool Telescope. We expect that students will travel during their PhDs to at least one international conference and one observing run at an international observatory.

Solar system Group

The group currently consists of 3 Faculty staff, 3 Postdoctoral fellows and 4 PhD students. We are members of several international projects, including the Pan-STARRS Solar System Survey, the Col-OSSOS project, the ESO Large Programme on TNO Rotation, the ESA Rosetta 67P ground-based support team, the UK LSST consortium and the ISSI team on Main-Belt Comets.

Further Information: Please contact Prof. Alan Fitzsimmons

public/phds2017/2017_fitzsimmons.txt · Last modified: 2017/01/20 12:24 by Alan Fitzsimmons

Back to Top Sitemap News