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Reconstructing the emergence of the Milky Way’s stellar population with Gaia, SDSS-V and JWST

Project description

Reconstructing the origin and evolution of the Milky Way

The universe is made up of trillions of galaxies. Observing other galaxies provides important insight into the origin and evolution of the universe, but our own Milky Way is the only one close enough to yield voluminous data sets from observational experiments. Three recent observational launches will provide unparalleled technological precision and accuracy. The EU-funded EMERGE project plans to make excellent use of the wealth of data they will be sending home about the stars and compact stellar remnants of our galaxy to build a galactic chemical evolution model. The observationally based reconstruction of the galaxy’s stellar formation history and chemical evolution will reveal its progenitors and their behaviours over time.


Understanding how the Milky Way arrived at its present state requires a large volume of precision measurements of our Galaxy’s current makeup, as well as an empirically based understanding of the main processes involved in the Galaxy’s evolution. Such data are now about to arrive in the flood of quality information from Gaia and SDSS-V. The demography of the stars and of the compact stellar remnants in our Galaxy, in terms of phase-space location, mass, age, metallicity, and multiplicity are data products that will come directly from these surveys. I propose to integrate this information into a comprehensive picture of the Milky Way’s present state. In parallel, I will build a Galactic chemical evolution model, with input parameters that are as empirically based as possible, that will reproduce and explain the observations. To get those input parameters, I will measure the rates of supernovae (SNe) in nearby galaxies (using data from past and ongoing surveys) and in high-redshift proto-clusters (by conducting a SN search with JWST), to bring into sharp focus the element yields of SNe and the distribution of delay times (the DTD) between star formation and SN explosion. These empirically determined SN metal-production parameters will be used to find the observationally based reconstruction of the Galaxy’s stellar formation history and chemical evolution that reproduces the observed present-day Milky Way stellar population. The population census of stellar multiplicity with Gaia+SDSS-V, and particularly of short-orbit compact-object binaries, will hark back to the rates and the element yields of the various types of SNe, revealing the connections between various progenitor systems, their explosions, and their rates. The plan, while ambitious, is feasible, thanks to the data from these truly game-changing observational projects. My team will perform all steps of the analysis and will combine the results to obtain the clearest picture of how our Galaxy came to be.

Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 1 859 375,00
Total cost
€ 1 859 375,00

Beneficiaries (1)