LAS CRUCES, New Mexico (KTSM) – New Mexico State University Astronomy Assistant Professor Wladimir Lyra received a three-year NASA-Emerging Worlds grant.

The award will further the understanding of how these planetesimals form in circumstellar disks.

Professor Lyra says his research may have implications for the formation of Pluto.

“The Kuiper belt is a goldmine of information of planetesimal formation,” Lyra said. This belt of circumstellar material is home to Pluto, the dwarf planet discovered by late NMSU astronomer Clyde Tombaugh.

The research will be building off preliminary work done by graduate student and research assistant Manuel Cañas, who will continue the work with Lyra. Cañas, came to NMSU from South Carolina but is originally from Colombia.

He was drawn to NMSU because of the astronomy department’s research reputation.

“It’s a very good school for research in astronomy,” Cañas said. “Aside from research and school, I like computer programming, which is another reason why I like this project — it’s very computationally intensive.”

Using computer simulations, Lyra builds models that predict planet formation mechanisms, that are then compared with the observational data collected by other researchers.

These models allow him to create and verify theories of how planets form.

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