In mid-March, UNSW’s Dr. Jonti Horner will be moving up to the University of Southern Queensland, to take up a full-time research position in the Computational Engineering and Science Research Centre.

Jonti arrived at UNSW in October 2010, initially arriving on a two-year Post-doctoral position within the Exoplanetary Science group, led by Prof. Chris Tinney. In his time at UNSW, he has led a variety of research projects studying the formation and evolution of our Solar system, the behaviour of Exoplanetary systems, and the astrobiological influences on the habitability of Earth-like planets.

In the last eighteen months of his time at UNSW, Jonti was employed on a casual, teaching-only basis, but managed to maintain his research, with a particular focus on using computational methods as a means to “sanity check” newly discovered exoplanetary systems. In particular, Jonti and his colleagues have found that the great majority of candidate multiple planet systems recently ‘discovered’ orbiting a class of elderly binary stars do not stand up to dynamical scrutiny. Whilst it is clear that something unusual is happening in those binary star systems, it seems unlikely that the cause of the strange behaviour they display is the result of unseen planetary companions.

Jonti has been an active and enthusiastic exponent of astronomical and astrobiological outreach, giving regular talks at local astronomical societies, schools, and at UNSW’s monthly Astronomy Outreach events. He has also appeared in the national and international media talking about his research, as well as writing fifteen articles for the excellent Australian research news website .

At the University of Southern Queensland, Jonti’s time will be 100% research focussed, and he is relishing the opportunity to once again throw himself wholeheartedly into his research. He will continue to build upon his collaborations with members of the ACA at UNSW, continuing his studies of exoplanetary systems. In addition, he will be working closely with UNSW’s Dr. James Gilmore on a project that will use an innovative mix of dynamical astronomical methods and climate modelling to study the influence of giant planets on the climate of potentially habitable worlds – work that should yield exciting new results in the coming year. He will also return to his studies of the Solar system’s small body populations, taking advantage of the supercomputing facilities at USQ to revisit and build upon his earlier studies of the Solar system’s Centaur and Trojan populations.

In addition to his theoretical and computational work, Jonti will have access to the excellent telescopes at USQ’s Mount Kent Observatory, which will allow him dedicated time to increase his involvement in the observational side of astronomical research. It will also allow Jonti to build on his passion for astrophotography – enabling him to take pictures that he will then use in his Outreach presentations. In the coming years, he hopes to be able to take many more photos like that displayed below!

Photograph of the Milky Way towards the centre of our galaxy, in the direction of the constellation Scorpius. Image taken by Dr. Jonti Horner from Orange, NSW, in August 2012. The bright orange star just below the centre is Antares, the brightest star in Scorpius, and one of the brightest in the whole night sky. The colourful nebulosity near Antares is known as the Star Clouds of Rho Ophiuchi, and is among the most photogenic regions of the night sky.