With the award of three cutting-edge research projects in the latest STFC grant funding round and brand-new James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) observations pouring in, researchers of the Bath Astrophysics Group have a lot of exciting science to look forward to.
Bath astrophysics is set to grow substantially, thanks to a successful joint Science and Technologies Facilities Council (STFC) consolidated grant bid which has resulted in post-docs awarded to Dr Schady, Dr Tsang and Dr van Eerten.
Dr Schady’s programme, coming with its own privileged time on JWST, has the ambitious goal of sorting out the puzzle of chemical enrichment in the early Universe. The degree to which supernovae have polluted their environments with heavy elements is a question at the core of galaxy evolution, yet diagnostics to accurately pin down this enrichment have been notoriously difficult to calibrate. Dr Schady’s spectroscopic observations are designed to do exactly that.
Dr Tsang is developing theory that has the potential to advance our fundamental understanding of nuclear physics by analysing the joint electromagnetic and gravitational wave signals from some of the densest objects known in the Universe: neutron stars. When two neutron stars spiral towards collision, this sends ripples through spacetime that can be detected by gravitational-wave observatories. This spiralling orbit also excites resonance in the neutron stars which can result in the shattering of the solid neutron star crust, and release of a gamma-ray flare. In this new STFC funded programme, Dr Tsang and his team will use these signals to place detailed constraints on the state of matter at extreme densities, in a manner orthogonal to those from terrestrial nuclear collider experiments.
Dr Van Eerten’s project focuses on the near-light speed jets of gas launched by gamma-ray bursts. Triggered when black holes are created, these are among the most energetic explosions in the universe. With new STFC grant funding, Dr Van Eerten and collaborators will use computer simulations to model the gas flow and predict how their emission would appear to observers, in particular at radio frequencies. The radio frequency predictions are especially timely right now, as the UK has invested heavily in a new generation of radio telescopes, the ‘Square Kilometre Array’, that is nearing completion.
Meanwhile, new JWST observations are offering Bath astrophysicists an unprecedented glimpse of the early Universe. “Since June, JWST has on regular occasions been a bit of a Bath telescope“, says Prof Wuyts, PI of the STFC grant and member of two international JWST teams, led from the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Geneva. “Early results have been exciting: a young Universe more ablaze with ultraviolet emission than models had predicted, and a diversity of distant galaxy morphologies that had not been appreciated from Hubble observations.” Bath team members are now dissecting the galaxies’ colours and morphologies to reconstruct their formation history.
With new recruits and further observations on the agenda for the next few months, Bath Astrophysics can happily tick off their wishlist for the holidays.