About me:

My name is Virginie and I am a French astrophysicist, originally from Savoie. I defended my thesis in 2014 in Grenoble, France, then moved to Santiago de Chile to become a FONDECYT postdoctoral Fellow at the Pontificia Universidad Catolica. Since November 2017, I am an Exoplanet Science Initiative Fellow at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. My work consists of studying planetary system formation and evolution in circumstellar discs, the interactions between the planets and these discs, and the stability of planetary systems, using numerical tools and observations of debris discs, mainly with ALMA. You can check out my work here and you will find my contact information there.

Research interests:

Dynamical history and evolution of debris discs and planetary systems, their interactions, related debris discs large scale asymmetries, planetary migration, N-body simulations, celestial mechanics, dynamical production of comets, astrobiology, (sub)mm and infrared observations of debris disks and exozodis (ALMA, SOFIA, LBTI...).


You will find here links to my publications, detailed descriptions of some of my projects, as well as highlights on projects I have been involved in.


The debris disk of HR 8799 seen with ALMA

HD 8799 is one of the rare systems in which planets have been directly imaged. Even rarer, it is a system where both planets and debris components are visible. The structure of the HR 8799 system mimics that of the Solar System: an Asteroid-belt analogue is surrounded by four giant planets, themselves enclosed by a Kuiper-belt analogue. HR 8799 is somewhat a slightly younger, amore massive, and more extended version of the Solar System. It has therefore been a great playground for many astronomer in the past decade. Why is this system twice as extended as the Solar System? Why are the giant planets all at least five times more massive than Jupiter? Are there other planets in this system? While the access to terrestrial-like planets close to the star and below the asteroid belt is still difficult, there seemed to be clues for an extra planet to be beyond the outermost giant HR 8799 b. Indeed, measurements carried out on the Kuiper-belt analogue with ALMA at 1.3mm indicated that the inner edge was too far out to be sculpted by planet b, and that there was room for an additional less massive planet that remained to be discovered, but this remained relatively uncertain. Thanks to the ALMA facility, I was able to image the disk at 870 microns and get a clearer picture of it. I found that the inner edge of the disk is not abrupt as was expected. This leaves room either for a planet that is little massive and has not completely cleared its surroundings, or material trapped in resonance. The mystery is not entirely solved, but future modelling work will now have a reliable map of the disk at SNR high enough for accurate comparison between models to be made. You will find a link to the publication below.


Here are links to my most recent publications.

Past projects I've been involved in:

The eccentric debris disk of HD 202628 seen with ALMA

HD 202628 is a Gyr-old star, and thus a mature star comparable to our Sun. Similar to the Solar System, it hosts an analogue to the Kuiper Belt, which was first revealed by the Hubble Space Telescope. Actually, this is the faintest belt ever resolved in scattered light. However, the Kuiper Belt analogue around HD 202628 is intrinsically eccentric (its geometrical center is offset from the star), which indicates it is sculpted by a planet on an eccentric orbit, which contrasts with the planets on circular orbits contained in the Solar System. This system is one of the steps needed to unravel the whole diversity of mature planetary systems, understand different outcomes and evolutions, and put our own Solar System in perspective. Here I have obtained ALMA observations of this debris disk as Principal Investigator: the wavelengths investigated by ALMA reveal dust grains that are little affected by stellar radiation effects, and thus the gravitational imprint of the planet is seen more clearly. This allows us in turn to set constraints on the yet invisible planet. At this stage, we suspect that the source S1 might be material orbiting this planet, potentially under the form of a giant ring system. Combining our ALMA data with Hubble and Herschel data allowed us to carry out a thorough analysis. You will find a link to the publication below.

Gaps in the debris disks of HD 92945 and HD 107146

Using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), the team led by Sebastian Marino has identified gaps in two debris disks, those of HD 107146 (top) and HD 92945 (bottom), questioning how far planets can form from their host stars.

The debris disk of HR 8799

Astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) have made the first high-resolution image of the cometary belt (a region analogous to our own Kuiper belt) around HR 8799, the only star where multiple planets have been imaged directly.

Some projects in detail:

Prints of planets in debris discs

Herschel vs Synthetic image of the debris disc of ζ2Ret (Faramaz et al., 2014)

At least ~20 % of Main-Sequence stars are known to harbor debris discs analogues to the Kuiper Belt. These discs are proof that the accretion of solids has permitted the formation of at least km-sized bodies. It is thus not surprising that several of these discs are accompanied by planets, which may reveal themselves by setting their dynamical imprints on the spatial structure of debris disks. Therefore, the detection of an eccentric debris disk surrounding ζ2 Ret by the Herschel space telescope provides evidence for the presence of a massive perturber in this system. ζ2 Ret being a mature Gyr-old system, and in that sense, analogous to our own Solar System, it offers a different example of long-term dynamical evolution. During my PhD, I carried out a detailed modelling of the structure of the debris disc of ζ2 Ret, which lead to constraints on the mass and orbital characteristics of the putative perturber. This study also reveals that eccentric structures in debris discs can survive on Gyr timescales (Faramaz et al., 2014).

Detailed modelling of the structure of debris disks can allow the posterior discovery of hidden planets, as is the case for the Fomalhaut system (see next section). However, this requires first to obtain detailed informations on the spatial structure of those discs. In the case of ζ2 Ret, resolved images of the disc were obtained with Herschel, that is, in space. Today, the observatory that certainly has the better capabilities to obtain detailed resolved images of debris disc is the Radio-interferometer ALMA. Moreover, with ALMA, mm-sized grain sizes are probed. These grains are much little sensitive to stellar radiation effects, and their spatial distribution bears a "purer" gravitational prints of planets than that of micron-sized grains. Using ALMA, a team led by Mark Booth (PI) obtained the first high-resolution image of the cometary belt around HR 8799, the only star where multiple planets have been imaged directly. The disc inner edge position has been found to be too far out to be explained simply by interactions with the outermost planet, HR 8799 b. It suggest either that the system has a more complicated dynamical history, or that there is an extra planet beyond HR 8799 b (Booth et al., 2016).

On the other hand, ALMA observations have been carried out as well for the debris disk of ζ2 Ret (PI: V. Faramaz). It appears that a double lobe structure is recovered with ALMA, but that it does not surround the star as seen in Herschel images. Taking into account the star's proper motion, it appears that the star would have been surrounded by the double lobe structure seen with ALMA at the time of the Herschel observations, leading us to believe that the lobes seen with Herschel were in fact background confusion and not a debris disk (Faramaz et al., 2018).

However, everything is not lost in the quest to unravel the diversity of mature Gyr-old systems, as an eccentric debris disk has been revealed by the Hubble Space Telecope around the star HD 202628. Observations have been carried out with ALMA (PI: V. Faramaz), have been presented at the AAS Meeting early 2019 (Faramaz et al., 2019), and will be soon published.

Debris disc and orbit of Fom b (Kalas et al. 2013) and combined HST and ALMA observations of the debris disc (Boley et al. 2012)

The case of the Fomalhaut system

The eccentric shape of the debris disc observed around the star Fomalhaut was first attributed to Fom b, a companion detected near the belt inner-edge, which revealed to be highly eccentric (e ~ 0.6-0.9), and thus very unlikely shaping the belt (Beust et al., 2014) . This hints at the presence of another massive body in this system, Fom c, which drives the debris disk shape. The resulting planetary system is highly unstable, which involves a recent scattering of Fom b on its current orbit, potentially with the yet undetected Fom c. This scenario was investigated during my PhD, and its study revealed that by having resided in inner mean-motion resonance with a Neptune or Saturn-mass belt-shaping eccentric Fom c and therefore have suffered a gradual resonant eccentricity increase on timescales comparable to the age of the system (~440 Myr), Fom b could have been brought close enough to Fom c and suffered a recent scattering event, which, complemented by a secular evolution with Fom c, explains its current orbital configuration (Faramaz et al., 2015) .

Zodiacal light seen from Paranal (ESO/Y. Beletsky)

Exozodis and Exocomets

The three-step scenario unraveled in the context of the study of the dynamical history of the Fomalhaut system can to occur for a large range of planetary masses and semi-major axes. This implies that material may be set very generically on extremely eccentric orbits through this mechanism, which in return could feed in dust the inner parts of the system. Therefore, this mechanism may also explain the presence of inner dust belts in the Fomalhaut system (Lebreton et al., 2013) , but also the discovery a significant population of very bright hot dust belts, especially in systems older than 100 Myr. Indeed, starting from a realistic reservoir, that could have remained unseen, this mechanism can set km-sized bodies on cometary orbits such that the replenishment rate of an exozodi is compatible with observations, and can be sustained over Gyr timescales (Faramaz et al., 2017) .

Dynamical evolution of planetary systems

The planetary systems discovered so far exhibit a great variety of architectures, and our solar system is far from being a generic model. One of the main mechanism that determines a planetary system morphology is planetary migration. The presence of a stellar binary companion - which our solar system is deprived of - is expected to affect planetary migration conditions, and potentially lead to the formation of very different planetary systems. This phenomenon is obviously non-negligible since binary systems represent at least half of stellar systems. At late stages of planetary systems evolution, planetary migration may occur as the result of interactions with remaining solid planetesimals and the impact of binarity on this planetesimal-driven migration is explored in this thesis. A stellar binary companion may in fact reverse the tendency for planets in single star systems to migrate inwards, and bring them closer to regions perturbed by the binary companion, where they could not have formed in situ (Faramaz et al., 2014) .