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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 17 full-time permanent members, as well as many postdocs and PhD students, and a vibrant visitors' programme.

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

Queen Mary is a member of SEPnet (the South East Physics Network), a consortium of nine partner universities working together to advance and sustain Physics as a strategically important subject for the UK economy and its science base in the South East Region of England, and is also part of SEPnet-Astro, the DISCnet data-intensive science centre, and the Alan Turing Institute for data science and artificial intelligence.

What do we do?

Our research encompasses a broad sweep of astrophysical phenomena, from the fantastical to the barely imaginable. We host internationally leading groups in early universe physics, relativistic and survey cosmology, extrasolar planets, planet formation and dynamics, and space and solar plasma physics, 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.

Where do we come from?

The AU was established as a research centre in 1984, and has built a focussed and successful programme of research that covers topics across the spectrum of modern astronomy and astrophysics. Historically the Astronomy Unit was 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-related activities within Queen Mary, and leading to substantial institutional investment in the Unit's research environment and infrastructure.

Our members come from all over the world. We have close collaborative ties to institutions in South Africa, Mexico, Brazil, and the US, amongst others, as well as closer to home through our membership of SEPnet. The AU prides itself on its diversity, and is known for its friendly and welcoming atmosphere. We are also proud to be 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.