A sci-fi fan since young adulthood, Rixin Li found himself among the many inspired to study planetary science when, in the early 2010s, NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope began detecting thousands of exoplanets. A few years later, he would conduct sophisticated numerical modeling to explain how such planets could form, illuminating their leap from tiny dust and ice particles to planetesimals—or bodies of solid materials, such as asteroids. Using code he developed, Rixin has described how conditions of the protoplanetary disk surrounding a young star influence planetesimal demographics. In doing so, he successfully linked his findings and predictions to properties observed in the Kuiper Belt, a region of our solar system highly populated with leftover planetesimals. He also revealed that particles require much less density for the clumping and gravitational collapse preceding planetesimal formation than once widely accepted.
March 30, 2023