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Exploring the Archaeology of Galaxies


An understanding of the way in which galaxies form and evolve remains an outstanding issue in astrophysics. Within the popular Lambda Cold Dark Matter model for structure formation, large galaxies, like our Milky Way, arise from the mergers of many smaller subsystems, as well as from the smooth accretion of intergalactic gas. Simulations of galaxy formation within a cosmological context are now able to make predictions about the structure and content of the major stellar components of galaxies but there remains a paucity of observational data against which to test them. Improving our knowledge of the archaeology of galaxies will be the primary aim of the Excellence Team.

The Team will pursue a multi-disciplinary approach combining state-of-the-art observational datasets with theoretical models in order to analyse and interpret the fossil record contained in our own Milky Way and up to 10 other nearby massive galaxies. The observations will be provided by wide-field imagers attached to the world's largest telescopes (the VLT/VIMOS and Subaru/Suprime-Cam) as well as by the new generation of large-area imaging surveys (WFCAM/UKIDSS, VISTA, SDSS), and will yield information about the spatial distribution, metallicities (including elemental abundances), kinematics and ages of long-lived stars. A particular focus of our work will be the study of stars in the far outer regions of these galaxies (e.g. stellar halos and outer thin/thick disks).

Theory predicts many of the most important clues about galaxy formation should lie buried in these parts yet they have traditionally been overlooked in observational studies due to their extreme faintness and the large areas on the sky, which they subtend. Specific topics to be addressed include - the structure and content of outer galactic disks, the physical origin of disk truncations, the frequency and nature of stellar substructure and the ubiquity, structure and composition of stellar halos and thick disks.

Call for proposal

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Old College, South Bridge
United Kingdom