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School of Physical and Chemical Sciences

Projects and Collaborations

The QMUL Astronomy Unit is heavily involved in a wide range of international projects, facilities, and collaborations.

Galaxy Surveys

Euclid is a European Space Agency mission that will survey large numbers of galaxies in the optical and near infrared, with the aim of better understanding the nature of Dark Energy. The Euclid satellite will be capable of precisely measuring the distances to many millions of distant galaxies, and using the resulting information to measure the expansion rate of the Universe. AU members are involved in many aspects of Euclid, including the theory, forecasting, and tests of isotropy work packages.

LSST is a ground-based optical survey telescope currently under construction in Chile. It will detect hundreds of millions of galaxies by repeatedly imaging the sky for ten years, precisely measuring their shapes and colours. AU members are involved in the Theory and Joint Probes working group of the LSST Dark Energy Science Collaboration, which is tasked with combining all available information form the clustering and weak gravitational lensing of galaxies into the best possible constraints on dark energy and gravitational physics.

VISTA is the world's largest near-infrared survey telescope. Scientists at Queen Mary led its construction, with AU members Jim Emerson as Principle Investigator and Will Sutherland as Project Scientist. VISTA publicity images are available from the ESO website.

Radio Surveys

HERA is an array of 350 parabolic mesh dishes, each 14m in diameter, in a close-packaged hexagonal array, situated close to the SKA site in the Western Cape region of South Africa. It is designed to passively map the sky at low frequencies, eventually building up sufficient sensitivity to detect fluctuations in the radio emission from neutral hydrogen during Cosmic Dawn and the Epoch of Reionisation, when the first stars and galaxies lit up the universe. Queen Mary is a HERA partner organisation, with AU member Phil Bull currently working on power spectrum estimation and statistical analysis of the data.

LOFAR is a low-frequency radio array based in the Netherlands but spread across much of Western Europe. Through SEPnet, the AU has access to the LOFAR:UK facility, which is based around a LOFAR station at Chilbolton. LOFAR also targets the Epoch of Reionisation, and is an important precursor experiment for the SKA-LOW array.

SKA is a large international project to build the world's most powerful radio telescope array. SKA will eventually comprise two telescopes - a low frequency array in Western Australia designed to detect and image signatures of the first stars and galaxies, and a mid-frequency array in South Africa's Western Cape region that can detect distant galaxies, study black holes, precisely time pulsar signals, and make gigantic 3D maps of the Universe. AU members are heavily involved in the Cosmology science working group of SKA, as well as precursor experiments like MeerKAT

Gravitational Wave Detection

The LIGO Scientific Collaboration (LSC) is the organisation behind the network of terrestrial gravitational wave detectors. The largest of these are the twin LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave) detectors in the USA, which in 2015 led the first direct detection of gravitational waves from a pair of merging black holes. Since then the LIGO detectors, in concert with the Virgo detector in Italy, have detected 90 gravitational wave events in total, including the first binary neutron star merger GW170817 (which was also accompanied by a spectacular electromagnetic counterpart). The fourth observing run of the LIGO and Virgo detectors, accompanied by the new KAGRA detector in Japan, is due to commence in December 2022. Tessa Baker leads the QMUL LSC group, which researches cosmology and tests of General Relativity with LIGO sources.

LISA is a space-based gravitational wave detector scheduled to launch in 2034, formed of three satellites. Between these three satellites, laser beam arms of 2.5 million km form an interferometer for the direct detection of low-frequency (mHz) gravitational waves. These low-frequency gravitational waves will enable us to study the merger of massive black holes that live at the centre of galaxies, and are millions of times heavier than those observed by the ground-based LIGO detectors. Using these events, data from LISA will also allow us to carry out new tests of fundamental physics and cosmology in a previously unexplored regime. The AU's Tessa Baker is co-leading teams to determine how LISA tests fundamental physics and gravity. The team is predicting for how well LISA could measure the speed of propagation of gravitational waves at mHz frequencies, which would be an indicator for new physics related to dark energy.

Stars and Planets

ALMA (the Atacama Large Millimetre Array) is the leading tool for observing the “cold” universe, which it does with light at wavelengths of around a millimetre. It is an interferometer, meaning that 66 dishes at different locations work together to act like a much larger telescope. Astronomers at QMUL are using ALMA in research on star and planet formation, in particular to survey the masses and sizes of planet forming discs of material around young stars in different star clusters. They also use computer simulations to interpret these observations and make predictions for new observations.

TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) is a NASA mission conducting an all-sky survey to detect the nearest exoplanets. TESS observes a 24×90 degree strip of the sky (a sector) continuously for 27 days and tiles the sky sequentially. Each star therefore receives 27 days of monitoring with stars near the ecliptic poles receiving longer baselines (up to one year) where individual sectors overlap. All stars receive 30-min (now 10-min in the extended mission) cadence observations by default with selected stars observed at 2-min cadence. TESS data is made immediately available to the community and QMUL researchers are heavily engaged in detecting new planets, especially around young stars, as well as characterising stars and their variability.

NGTS (the Next Generation Transit Survey) is a ground-based wide-field photometric facility comprising 12 independent 20-cm robotic telescopes based at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile. NGTS is engaged in various research efforts: (i) a dedicated survey of young open clusters and star forming regions to detect new young planets and characterise the early evolution of stellar and planetary systems; (ii) follow up of bright and monotransit candidate planets from TESS; (iii) stellar characterisation, including rotation, flares, and eclipsing binary stars; and (iv) its own survey to detect new exoplanets. QMUL researchers are heavily engaged in NGTS and lead the NGTS cluster survey.

Hyperion is being proposed as a medium class explorer (MIDEX) mission. It would be a space telescope observing at ultraviolet wavelengths. It allows us to probe emission from the most abundant molecule in the Universe - H2 - which is otherwise extremely hard to observe. This will allow us to understand the formation and destruction of star-forming clouds of gas, and allow us to determine how material is lost from planet-forming discs by being accreted onto the star or stripped away in a wind. QMUL’s Thomas Haworth is a science team member, leading the development of the science objective that will study the destruction of molecular clouds

Space Plasma Missions

Parker Solar Probe is a NASA mission launched in 2018 that is currently on its way to the Sun and will soon become the first spacecraft the fly through the solar corona. Its goals are to understand the origin of the solar wind, coronal heating, fundamental plasma processes near the Sun, space weather events such as solar flares / energetic particles / coronal mass ejections, and explore this previously unexplored area of the solar system. AU members David Burgess and Christopher Chen were involved in the development of the mission are members of the science team working on the data analysis, resulting in recent results on solar wind origins and acceleration.

Solar Orbiter is an ESA mission launched in 2020 that combines remote and in situ observations of the Sun and solar wind to study the connection between events on the Sun and their effects throughout the heliosphere, it will address the question: “how does the Sun create and control the heliosphere?” AU members were involved in the mission development and are on the science team working on the data analysis.

Magnetospheric Multiscale is a NASA mission launched in 2015 consisting of four spacecraft flying in formation around Earth to study the fundamental plasma processes such as magnetic reconnection and plasma turbulence in near-Earth space, and the broader effects that they have for example in space weather. AU members are part of the science team analysing the data, and led a recent study showing how plasma turbulence heats the solar wind.

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