"You're an astronomy grad student? That's so cool!"
"So what do you do?"
"I figure out the weather forecast for planets that might not exist anymore."
"Wait. What kind of telescope do you use to do that?"
"I don't observe them with a telescope."
"How do you look at them, then?"
"I carefully observe the inside of my computer."
"But a planet can't fit inside a computer!"
"Well, that depends on how cooperative the computer is."
In technical terms, I model the internal structure of gas giant planets to determine how evolution of their internal structures effects their orbits.
I've developed Helena, a 1D Henyey method code written in C++, which is tailor-made to model what goes on inside of exo-planets.
Previously existing Henyey codes were developed to simulate the internal physics of stars. Until now, exoplanet researchers have had to spend significant time and effort modifying these stellar-structure codes to handle the cooler, fusion-free, compositionally static situations appropriate for planets. Even then, those codes are not optimized for running in the parameter space that exoplanets demand.
Helena is purpose-built to model the interior structures of exoplanets.
This state-of-the-art software is fast, easy to use, and builds and evolves simulations of gas giant planets right out of the box.
The code itself is modular, making it simple for researchers to plug in their own custom physics calculations. Helena is also easy to plug in to other numerical simulation software, such as N-body and secular evolution codes.
For the first time, Helena makes it easy to simulate how planets' internal tidal evolution determines how they migrate towards their parent stars.