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PhD Opportunities

Circumbinary planets from space-based transiting planet surveys

Supervisor: Dr David BrownLink opens in a new window

Anticipated start date: October 2023

Applications for this PhD position are now closed.

Illustration of a circumbinary planetary system

Image Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

Planets orbiting stellar multiples are a popular science fiction trope, but while detection of the first exoplanet around a Sun-like star was confirmed in 1995Link opens in a new window the first circumbinary planet was only announced in 2011Link opens in a new window.

Since that announcement other circumbinary planets (or CBPs) have been found through transit detection, eclipse timing, and microlensing, but the number of known CBPs is still very small compared to the total number of known exoplanets. This limits our ability to investigate the formation and evolution of CBP systems, which may be very different from the similar processes for single-star planetary systems. The limited number of known CBPs also restricts our knowledge of the underlying parameter distributions, and the current sample is affected by strong observational biases.

This project will explore the fascinating world of circumbinary planets, focusing on the use of data from space-based observatories to study those that transit one or both of their host stars.

Most of the known transiting CBPs were discovered by NASA's Kepler mission, but since that mission's unfortunate demise the search has been taken up by NASA's TESS satellite, which has produced some recent newLink opens in a new window discoveriesLink opens in a new window. In the future, ESA's PLATO missionLink opens in a new window is also likely to detect new CBPs and expand our sample of these interesting systems.

However, detection of a transiting circumbinary requires more fortuitous timing than is the case for single-star systems. Not only are the planet's transits dwarfed by the stellar eclipses, but the gravitational interactions between the host binary stars and the orbiting planet lead to rapid orbital precession. Thus nearly all of the currently known transiting CBPs will, in fact, cease transiting at some point. The process is periodic, however, and given long enough all will eventually transit once more. This also means that previously non-transiting CBPs may appear around apparently planetless eclipsing binaries.


Be part of this exciting area of exo-planet research

CBPs are a relatively under-investigated group of exoplanets, and there are several areas that you could explore as part of this project, including:

  • Detection of new transiting CBPs using data from the TESS satellite. These could be short-period planets with many detectable transits, or single-transit events indicative of planets on orbits misaligned with their host binary, or even non-transiting CBPs detected through eclipse timing variations.
  • Modelling of CBP transits to constrain their orbital parameters and predict their future evolution
  • Simulation of CBP systems to evaluate their detectability and constraint the likelihood of planets being present in known eclipsing binary systems.

Please contact me directly to find out more and discuss how the project might be tailored to your particular interests and skill set.

If you have any questions about the projects listed on this page, or would like to know more, please get in touch by emailLink opens in a new window.


To apply, please complete the on-line forms linked from the Warwick Department of Physics postgraduate admissions pagesLink opens in a new window (i.e. not by email). No research statement is required, but please clearly state that you are interested in a place with the Astronomy and Astrophysics group, and mention the specific projects that you're interested in.

If you are not a UK national, please contact Dr Brown to discuss the potential for applications to the various post-graduate scholarships listed hereLink opens in a new window and the Warwick Prize Astrophysics Scholarships.Link opens in a new window


At the University of Warwick, we strongly value equity, diversity and inclusion. The Physics Department will provide a healthy working environment, dedicated to outstanding scientific guidance, mentorship and personal development. We are committed to individuals with care giving duties and can offer flexible working hours.

Both the Physics Department and the University of Warwick hold Athena SWAN Silver awards, a national initiative to promote gender equality for all staff and students. The Physics Department is also a Juno Champion, which is an award from the Institute of Physics to recognise our efforts to address the under-representation of women in university physics and to encourage better practice for both women and men.

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