Space Research & Planetary Sciences (WP)

Christoph Mordasini

Group Leader SNSF Starting Grant "PlanetsInTime"

Space Research and Planetary Sciences Division

Physikalisches Institut

University of Bern

Sidlerstrasse 5

CH-3012 Bern





My research interests are situated at the interface of the theoretical study and the observational characterization of planets, both in the solar system as well as around other stars. This includes:

  • the thermodynamical and compositional evolution of planets from their origins to present day
  • the accretion of gas and solids during the planet formation epoch
  • the observational detection and characterization of extrasolar planets via the radial velocity and direct imaging technique
  • the statistical comparison of theory and observation via the planetary population synthesis method
  • the destruction of impactors in planetary atmospheres
  • the formation and evolution of Jupiter 
  • the orbital migration of protoplanets and the evolution of protoplanetary disks via turbulent viscosity and photoevaporation

Complete citation list:

Link to NASA ADS with C. Mordasini in the author search field

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Selected publications

Mordasini, C., van Boekel, R., Mollière, P., Henning, T., Benneke, B. 2016, ApJ, 832, 41 The imprint of exoplanet formation history on observable present-day spectra of hot Jupiters

Szulagyi, E. & Mordasini, C. 2016, MNRAS letters, in print Thermodynamics of giant planet formation: shocking hot surfaces on circumplanetary disks

Linder, E. & Mordasini, C. 2016, A&A 589, A134 Evolution and magnitudes of candidate Planet Nine

Mordasini, C., Mollière, P., Dittkrist, K.-M., Jin, S., Alibert, Y. 2015, International Journal of Astrobiology, 14, 201 Global Models of Planet Formation and Evolution

Mordasini, C. 2014, A&A 572, A118  An analytical model for the grain opacity in protoplanetary atmospheres

Mordasini, C., Klahr, H., Alibert, Y., Miller, N. & Henning, T. 2014, A&A 566, A141 Grain opacity and the bulk composition of extrasolar planets. I. Results from scaling the ISM opacity

Mordasini, C., 2013, A&A 558, A113 Luminosity of young Jupiters revisited. Massive cores make hot planets

Fortney, J., Mordasini, C. , Nettelmann, N., Kempton, E., Greene, T. & Zahnle, K. 2013 ApJ  775, 80 A Framework for Characterizing the Atmospheres of Low-mass Low-density Transiting Planets

Mordasini, C., Alibert, Y., Georgy, C., Dittkrist, K.-M., Klahr, H. & Henning, T. 2012c,  A&A 547, A112 Characterization of exoplanets from their formation. II. The planetary mass-radius relationship 

Mordasini, C. , Alibert, Y., Klahr, H. & Henning, T. 2012b, A&A 547, A111 Characterization of exoplanets from their formation. I. Models of combined planet formation and evolution 

Mollière, P. & Mordasini, C. 2012,  A&A 547, A105 Deuterium burning in objects forming via the core accretion scenario. Brown dwarfs or planets? 

Mordasini, C., Alibert, Y., Benz, W., Klahr, H. & Henning, T. 2012a, A&A 541, A111 Extrasolar planet population synthesis. IV. Correlations with disk metallicity, mass, and lifetime 

Mordasini, C., Mayor, M., Udry, S., Lovis, C., Ségransan, D., Benz, W., Bertaux, J.-L., Bouchy, F., Lo Curto, G., Moutou, C., Naef, D., Pepe, F., Queloz, D. & Santos, N. C. 2011a,  A&A 526, A111 The HARPS search for southern extra-solar planets. XXIV. Companions to HD 85390, HD 90156, and HD 103197: a Neptune analog and two intermediate-mass planets 

Mordasini, C., Alibert, Y., Benz, W., & Naef, D. 2009b,  A&A 501, 1161 Extrasolar planet population synthesis. II. Statistical comparison with observations

Mordasini, C., Alibert, Y. & Benz, W. 2009a,  A&A 501, 1139 Extrasolar planet population synthesis. I. Method, formation tracks, and mass-distance distribution 

Mordasini, C., Alibert, Y. & Benz, W. 2006,  Tenth Anniversary of 51 Peg-b: Status of and prospects for hot Jupiter studies Destruction of planetesimals in protoplanetry atmospheres

Alibert, Y., Mordasini, C., Benz, W. & Winisdoerffer, C. 2005, A&A 434, 343 Models of giant planet formation with migration and disc evolution

Lectures at the University of Bern 

Herbstsemester 2015-2018: Physik I (with Prof. W. Benz und Prof. N. Thomas) 

 Herbstsemester 2015-2018: Planetenphysik (with PD. Dr. A. Pommerol) 

Herbstsemester 2015-2018: Crash Course in Mathematics

Lectures at the University of Heidelberg (2011-2014) 

As a Privatdozent I was a member of the department of physics and astronomy at the University of Heidelberg. I taught various courses and supervised Bachelor-, Master- and PhD theses.

Interviews and news articles

  • TV interviews in the Swiss National TV in SRF Tagesschau (main daily news program, 2016) and in MTW (science show, 2007, 2008), German national TV (ARD), and the Südwestrundfunk TV (in German), live radio interview in the Swiss National Radio RTS1 (CQFD, in French)
  • Interviews for news articles by: NZZ (Switzerland), NZZ am Sonntag (Switzerland), NASA Astrobiology Magazine (USA), T-online (Germany), Discovery Science Channel (UK), RT Moscow (Russia)
  • Press release of the University of Bern and the NCCR PlanetS on the Linder & Mordasini (2016) article on candidate Planet 9. Mentioned as research highlight in Nature (533, 149).
  • Widespread media coverage on the article on candidate Planet 9 in national and international media including BBC, Spektrum der Wissenschaft, BR, ORF, Der Standard, Cnet, Fox News, Daily Mail, Der Bund, Blick, Handelszeitung, 20 Minutes, Swissinfo, ...

Online talks

Post Doc Positions

Applications are invited for a postdoctoral position in research related to (extrasolar) planets in Christoph Mordasini's "PlanetsInTime" research group at the University of Bern, Switzerland. We seek an excellent candidate in the areas of planet formation and evolution theory, in particular planetary thermodynamic and compositional evolution, internal structures, luminosities, atmospheric escape, planetary population synthesis, and the comparison of theory and observation. The University of Bern leads the network "PlanetS" of Swiss universities involved in planetary and exoplanetary science, hosts the Center of Space and Habitability, and is the leading house of the future ESA satellite CHEOPS, creating rich opportunities for collaborations.

Applicants must have a PhD in (astro)physics, or expect to be awarded a PhD before starting the position. The initial appointment is for two years with a possible one-year extension. Applicants should submit a cover letter, a 3 page research statement, a publication list, and a CV to Christoph Mordasini, Applicants should also arrange for three letters of recommendation to be directly submitted to the same email address. Full consideration will be given to applications received by 15. February 2017. The position should be filled at the earliest possible date, and could start as early as March 2017. 

The successful applicant will have access to substantial expenses for travel and computing equipment, as well as access to high-performance computing facilities. Swiss postdoc salaries are extremely competitive even considering local costs of living, and are set by standard local regulations based on age and experience. The University of Bern is an equal opportunity employer, and female researchers are specially encouraged to apply.

PhD Positions

Currently no vacancies. 

Bachelor and Master Theses

There are many projects available for bachelor and master students (see also ):

1. The dynamics of astroids during the formation of Jupiter

In the astroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, several types of astroids with similar orbits exist (Trojans, Greeks, Hildas, ..). In this bachelor thesis we study whether these dynamic groups form during the formation of Jupiter itself, namely at the moment when Jupiter rapidly accreted a large amount of hydrogen and helium gas to become a gas giant planet. For this, a sophisticated computer code is modified that numerically integrates the orbits of thousands of astroids under the gravitational influence of the forming Jupiter and the Sun. This not only yields a prediction about the resulting asteroid groups, but also about the enrichment of Jupiter in elements besides hydrogen and helium, because many asteroids collide with Jupiter enriching its atmosphere. These predictions are then compared with the observational data on the astroid families and Jupiter's composition. This will allow us to understand at which rate Jupiter accreted gas, and at which position this planet formed. 

An animation to this project can be found here (proto-Jupiter is at coordinates 5,0):

2. Flashes from extrasolar impacts

In this thesis we study the fate of large bodies (planetesimals, asteroids) that impact into the atmosphere of a forming extrasolar giant planet. We study how they loose their mass and energy while they fly into the denser parts of the gaseous envelope. This is similar to atmospheric impacts into Earth like the Chelyabinsk meteor in 2013 or the impact of comet Shoemaker Levy 9 into Jupiter in 1994. We then study how the planet itself reacts to this massive impact, including the possible formation of an impact plume (similar to an "Atompilz"). Finally we investigate whether these impact flashes could be detected from Earth. Dash cam videos of the Chelyabinsk meteor:

3. Formation of planets in massive infalling protoplanetary disks

When a star forms, not all infalling gas can directly fall onto the star because of angular momentum conservation. Instead it first falls onto a protoplanetary disk. During the main infall phase that forms the star, the mass of this disk can become so high that it becomes unstable to its own gravity. The disk then fragments into bound clumps of gas. In this batchelor thesis we investigate when such bound clumps can form and whether they are the progenitors of gaseous giant planets. We study this by simulating the formation and evolution of a disk with a numerical model. We then check when and where the simulated disk becomes unstable, and compare the resulting clumps with the observed extrasolar planets.

4. Comparison of the planetary population around M dwarf: theory vs observations

Stars with a mass clearly smaller than the Sun are called M dwarfs. These red stars outnumber solar-like stars by about a factor 10 in the local milky way. The population of planets around these stars is however still not well known. In this work we compare the properties of planets around M dwarfs (like their occurrence rate, their mass, their distance from the star etc.) as predicted by a theoretical model of planet formation with observations that have been obtained in the past few years by the NASA Kepler satellite. This allows to find out how well our theoretical model reproduces the observations, and where it has its shortcomings.