Scientific Rationale

The study of circumstellar disks and the formation of planetary systems is experiencing an enormous progress in recent years. Thanks to wide-field imaging surveys with the Spitzer Space Telescope and ground-based near-infrared and submillimeter telescopes, unbiased samples of thousands of young stellar objects with disks down to 0.01 LSun (brown dwarf regime) have been identified in the nearest molecular clouds within ~1 kpc. Photometry from optical to millimeter wavelengths provides spectral energy distributions whereas mid-infrared and submillimeter spectroscopy probe the gas and the solid state content. The Very Large Telescope (VLT) and VLT Interferometer (VLTI) in the optical/infrared, combined with millimeter and radio interferometers at longer wavelengths, are providing a new wealth of high angular resolution observations to study disks structure and evolution. New and exciting developments range from evidence for grain growth and settling (the first steps in planet formation) as the disks evolve, to the development of gaps and holes in a new set of transitional disks, and to the direct detection of (proto)planets around pre-main sequence stars. New facilities with enormous potential are lining up and are expected to start producing a new wealth of data: the Herschel Space Observatory in 2009 and The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) with the opening of Early Science in 2010. In a more distant future, protoplanetary disks are also a key theme for the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT).

The goals of the workshop will be to review the status of the field and to discuss transformational programs that will be made possible with the upcoming facilities, and especially by the combined use of the ESO present and future facilities. To achieve these we propose to bring together the communities working with ground based infrared large telescopes and interferometers, with space observatories and millimeter interferometers as well as theorists.

The second half of 2009 will be especially timely to discuss observational programs to be carried on with ALMA during Early Science and to review the survey results from Spitzer and other large field facilities, to present the new high angular and spectral resolution results that are coming from the ESO VLT/VLTI and the first results from Herschel.

Main science topics include

  • Properties of circumstellar disks across the stellar mass spectrum
  • Evolution of protoplanetary disks
  • Chemistry in disks (gas phase and solids)
  • Initial phases of planet formation
  • Young (proto)planets
  • Planet-Disk interactions
  • Debris disks