Hello, and welcome!
My name is Stephanie Hamilton, and I am a PhD candidate and NSF Graduate Research Fellow in Physics at the University of Michigan.
My research primarily concerns the search for and discovery of small members of our Solar System that orbit farther out than Neptune. This region of the Solar System is called the “Kuiper Belt.” There’s a lot of interest in studying this region because it has remained largely untouched since the Solar System reached essentially its present state. This means we can study these objects, what they’re made of, and how they orbit the Sun to figure out what the very early Solar System looked like (I’m talking even the pre-Earth Solar System) and how it has evolved over the past 4.5 billion years.
At the moment, I am studying the characteristics of the longest-period objects we know about, which are clustered in physical space in an unexpected way. One explanation for this clustering is Planet Nine, a hypothetical new planet orbiting many times farther out than Neptune or Pluto that could be responsible for shepherding these long-period objects into their current configuration. The jury is still out as to whether the evidence is strong enough to definitively say whether or not Planet Nine exists. I’m hoping that my graduate school research will be another enlightening voice in the debate.
I am a member of the Dark Energy Survey, a 500+ member global collaboration. We are currently taking hundreds of thousands of images of the Southern Hemisphere sky using a sophisticated camera (the Dark Energy Camera) mounted on the 4-meter Blanco Telescope in Chile. While designed primarily to study very distant galaxies, it turns out that taking pictures of a huge area of sky also returns lots of Solar System objects. DES is an extremely powerful Solar System survey despite being designed for extragalactic science, and I hope to use this incredible data set to learn more about the history of our Solar System!