Rita K. Mann’s Research

I study protoplanetary disks in the Orion Nebula cluster using interferometers, like the Submillimeter Array (SMA) in Hawaii, the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile and the Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) in New Mexico.


Massive Stars

Low Mass Stars

θ1 Ori C

Orion Nebula Cluster

PROtoPLanetarY DiskS, or “Proplyds”, in Orion

Above Left: Spectacular Hubble Space Telescope images of protoplanetary disks in Orion being photoevaporated by ultraviolet radiation from the most massive star of the Orion Nebula cluster, θ1Ori C. Right: A small number of so-called “silhouette” disks show no evidence of being photoevaporated and are thought to be far enough in the foreground to avoid the high energy radiation. 

Credit: John Bally

Credit: M. McCaughrean,

C.R. O’Dell, NASA, STSci

Credit: NASA, J. Bally

H. Throop, C.R. O’Dell, STSci

The Solar system formed out of a disk of gas and dust surrounding our young Sun. By studying similar protoplanetary disks around young stars, we can begin to understand how common the conditions which gave rise to our planetary system are, and place our Solar system in context.  Our Sun, and most other stars in the sky, form in close proximity to massive stars.  Protoplanetary disks surrounding these young stars can be photoevaporated by the intense ultraviolet radiation emitted by the nearby massive stars, as imaged in detail by the Hubble Space Telescope towards the Orion Nebula (see above).  Photoevaporation reduces the amount of raw material in these disks that is available to form planets.  To investigate how the potential for planet formation is reduced for young protoplanetary disks located near massive stars, we conducted a Submillimeter Array survey at 850 um to measure protoplanetary disk masses in the nearest, young, massive star forming region, the 1-Myr-old Orion Nebula Cluster.  Our results are now published, see Paper I, Paper II, Paper III.