How stars form remains one of the outstanding problems in contemporary astrophysics: a theory of star formation is central an understanding of galaxy formation and evolution, of the interstellar medium, and of planet formation. In addition, star forming clouds provide a unique laboratory for the study of fundamental physical and chemical processes in environments quite different from that on earth.
Over the past twenty years, our understanding of the star formation process has advanced rapidly through the development new telescopes and receivers, working primarily at wavelengths of about one millimetre: such observations allow us to probe directly the inner regions of dark clouds which are collapsing to form stars.
In this project, we aim to push our understanding one step further by exploiting the new generation of array receivers on millimetre telescopes. For the first time, these ''cameras" will allow us to make complete pictures of the gas in large numbers star forming regions, allowing the first large-scale surveys of star formation at high resolution to be made. The project will involve mapping a sample of nearby dark clouds at a much higher resolution and sensitivity than has been possible before, using arrays such as SCUBA on the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii. The principal objective is search for extremely young, truly protostellar objects by searching for very compact dust emission in a sample of optically- selected clouds. For the first time, we will be able to make an unbiased census of star formation in nearby clouds: we will analyse our sample to constrain and refine our theoretical models of the star formation process.
Training content (objective, benefit and expected impact)
This project will allow the applicant to become an expert in observational astrophysics at the highest level, using the finest research instruments available in the world. The training content includes use of the world's largest telescopes; the analysis scientific data from such instruments using existing and self-written computer software; the understanding and development simple physical models to understand the data; and the presentation of results at international conferences, in research papers and in the form of a PhD thesis.
Links with industry / industrial relevance (22)
Naturally, there are few direct industrial links we can exploit directly as astrophysicists and astronomers. Nonetheless, the ski and instrumentation that we use daily are directly applicable to industrial research and development, and so the training content of such research programs ensures that our students are capable of careers both in industry and academic research.