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Protoplanetary disks in regions of massive star formation: coupling advanced observations to models

Final Report Summary - 3DPROPLYDS (Protoplanetary disks in regions of massive star formation: coupling advanced observations to models)

Project context and objectives

The project researcher investigated the properties of protoplanetary discs (proplyds) found in Galactic nebulae that are undergoing photo-evaporation near massive stars. The existence of proplyds was discovered in the late 1970s; however, the consensus regarding their true nature was reached in the 1990s. The proplyds are externally ionised discs of gas and dust surrounding young stars. The largest known population is found in the Orion Nebula. Planetary formation may be underway in these discs. The researcher led an international collaboration that performed targeted observations of Orion proplyds with the Very Large Telescope (VLT) of the European Southern Observatory (ESO). The main objective of this project was to investigate the spectroscopic properties of these sources and to determine their composition in chemical elements. He analysed VLT and Hubble Space Telescope observations at ESO, and also participated in the analysis of observations obtained with Spanish telescopes within a wider collaboration.

Main results

Overall, the project met its main objectives and produced pioneering results that elucidate the astrophysics of proplyds. It also set high standards for future work on the subject, laying challenges to forthcoming observational and theoretical investigations. Via ESO, this project has benefited from access to some of the most advanced European infrastructure relevant to astrophysics. As a result, the work done during the course of this fellowship helps Europe to keep its competitive edge in Integral-Field Spectroscopy, and demonstrates that Europe's significant investment to its astronomical infrastructure via ESO and via funding to individual researchers is a very worthy enterprise that should be encouraged and promoted.

By holding the IE fellowship at ESO the researcher benefited in important ways. The ESO headquarters in Garching (DE) is a very stimulating environment. They run a substantial seminar series and he attended several talks on a weekly basis (lunch talks, 'star formation' seminars, joint Max Planck/ESO colloquia, internal 'all hands' ESO meetings, round tables, outreach lectures, etc). He was thus kept informed on a variety of cutting-edge issues, both relating to astrophysical science and, not less importantly, on complex developments regarding the host organisation. In this way he witnessed the way that ESO operates first hand. The researcher was fortunate to meet numerous science visitors during his stay in Garching, some of whom, such as Prof. John Bally (Colorado), then became involved in the researcher's projects. On technical issues, the researcher benefited from the on-site presence of experts in astronomical spectroscopy (such as the scientist-in-charge, Dr Jeremy Walsh) and consulted local staff who developed software for the processing of datasets that were used on the IEF project. The researcher also attended the ALMA community days meeting (26-27 June 2012 at ESO headquarters) where he participated in online tutorials on the preparation and exploitation of ALMA observations, thus accumulating useful skills for his prospective projects with this major facility. He further participated in the running of the Period 89 OPC panel meeting (22-24 November 2011), which elected successful observing programmes to be executed by ESO telescopes. The researcher liaised with and assisted the selection panels in this function, gaining useful skills in the process and exchanging views with a large number of panel members.