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School of Physics and Astronomy

About the Astronomy Unit

The Astronomy Unit at Queen Mary is one of the largest astronomy and astrophysics research groups in the UK, with 16 full-time permanent academic staff, as well as many postdoctoral researchers and PhD students, and a vibrant visitors' research programme.

In addition, we run comprehensive undergraduate and masters taught programmes in Astrophysics, maintain a successful PhD research training programme, and undertake an extensive range of outreach activities, both within the local area and nationally.

Research in the Astronomy Unit

Our research programme encompasses a broad range of astrophysical phenomena across the universe, which we study with observational, theoretical, and simulational approaches. We host internationally leading groups in early universe physics, relativistic and survey cosmology, extrasolar planets, planet formation and dynamics, solar and space plasma physics, and plasma astrophysics, and regularly welcome research visitors from a range of other sub-fields.

Our Cosmology and Relativity group studies the full evolution of the Universe, from the stages of rapid expansion immediately after the Big Bang, to the complex structures we see around us today. This research is, in many cases, conducted within international collaborations, where we explore the vast reaches of the Universe using the biggest telescopes to study distant galaxies in an effort to understand how they formed and how they evolve. Our members play leading roles in the Square Kilometre Array, Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, Euclid, VISTA, HERA, and MeerKAT experiments, amongst others.

Our Planetary Formation and Dynamics group studies our neighbours in the Solar System, for example using NASA satellites to probe the mysteries of the rings of Saturn and turning up surprising results about even this nearby planet; hunts for planets around nearby stars, using some of the world’s most sophisticated telescopes to detect the tiny telltale signs of distant worlds, some of which are expected to resemble the Earth itself (though most are very different); and develops theoretical models of how planets form and evolve, complementing the observational studies. 

Our Space, Solar and Astrophysical Plasmas group studies the natural plasmas which define the behaviour of many astrophysical objects, undertaking fundamental research in universal plasma phenomena such as turbulence, magnetic reconnection and collisionless shocks. We are involved with many current international missions such as ESA's Solar Orbiter and NASA's Parker Solar Probe. The data from these missions, together with computer simulations and theoretical modelling, helps us build a deeper understanding of the plasma universe.

History of the Astronomy Unit

The AU was established as a research centre in 1984, and has since built a focussed and successful programme of research that covers topics across the spectrum of modern astronomy and astrophysics. The Astronomy Unit was initially located within the School of Mathematical Sciences, but in 2011 it merged with the School of Physics to form the new School of Physics and Astronomy, significantly raising the profile of astronomy within Queen Mary, leading to substantial institutional investment in the Unit's research environment and infrastructure.

We now have a diverse membership, with staff and students from a wide range of countries. We have close collaborative ties to institutions in South Africa, Mexico, Brazil, USA, and Europe, amongst others, as well as within the UK through our membership of SEPnet (the South East Physics Network). The AU is also part of SEPnet-Astro, the DISCnet data-intensive science centre, and the Alan Turing Institute for data science and artificial intelligence. We are also IoP Juno Champions, recipients of an Athena Swan Silver Award, and are a Living Wage employer. All AU members and visitors are asked to follow our Code of Conduct.