Planetary sciences are experiencing a revolution with the discovery of a multitude of planetary systems around other stars. For many years, the distant and less well known outer Solar System represented the main frontier in the exploration of exotic regimes of planetary behaviours. Today, numerous extrasolar planets also offer a chance to explore planetary regimes that had simply not been imagined until the most recent discoveries.
The emergence of solid rocky exoplanets (of no more than a few earth masses) around 2009 rapidly made the knowledge of planetary scientists and geoscientists essential to the interpretation of astronomical data about such bodies. This has led to a fertile convergence of ideas between geophysics, planetary science and astronomy, one that is growing stronger as exoplanet data accumulates. Underpinning this exploration of planets near and far is a strong drive to understand our existence on Earth in the greater cosmic context it deserves.
Today astronomers are designing observational strategies to find the first traces of life on a remote, Earth-like world. Along the way they are cataloguing the vast diversity of planetary systems found around other stars in order to quantify the frequency of planetary systems like ours. In parallel, planetary scientists are pursuing their search for life in the Solar System, from our planetary neighbour Mars to the distant moons of Saturn and Jupiter.
This fertile interdisciplinary opportunity provides the main scientific motivation behind the creation of a cross-departmental, tri-campus Centre for Planetary Sciences at the University of Toronto. The CPS is hosted at the Scarborough campus, within the Department of Physical and Environmental Sciences. The main role of the centre is to provide the best academic forum possible for cross-disciplinary exchanges between faculty, postdoctoral fellows, and students working on planets near and far at the University. To achieve this goal, the centre administers an extensive visitor program and a competitive postdoctoral fellows program. The centre also enhances educational activities by providing an orientation platform for all interested students and by helping attract some of the best undergraduate and graduate talent in planetary science to the University. Finally, the centre supports outreach activities aimed at engaging the general public with Solar system and exoplanet science, with an emphasis on local community efforts.
As an interdisciplinary initiative the CPS has strong links with other departments and centres across the University of Toronto, particularly: the Dunlap Institute, the Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics, and the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics (CITA)