Research in planetary formation, astrophysics, and cosmology at Bristol

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: Physics

Abstract

This proposal is for a grant to investigate several important questions in planetary science, astrophysics, and cosmology in the Schools of Physics and Earth Sciences in the University of Bristol.

The first project is an investigation of how the Moon formed. The best current idea is that the Moon was created by a giant impact between a massive protoplanet and the young Earth. The problem is that this leads to predictions for the chemical makeup of the Moon that differ from what we measure. Alternative impact scenarios exist, and the key to choosing between them is good measurements of the mix of elements (and different isotopes of those elements) on the Moon. This project will make a far more precise set of measurements of moon rocks than has been possible in the past, with the expectation of being able to choose one model over another.

The second project involves using new data from the Cassini spacecraft to investigate the atmosphere of Saturn's giant moon, Titan. The project will determine how Titan's climate system operates
and how the atmosphere redistributes solar energy over two of Titan's 7.5 Earth-year long seasons. Titan is one of only four terrestrial planets with atmospheres in our Solar System and provides unique
insight into how planetary atmospheres operate under extreme conditions.

The final planetary science project is an investigation of how planets form from the small particles in the gas/dust disks around young stars. We now know that planets are very common around stars, but we are still unsure of how planets form, and even of the best way to search for forming planets within these disks. The purpose of the high-performance computer calculations to be done in this project is to predict where planets can be located in the types of disk that we know exist.

Much cosmology over the past few years has been based on investigations of clusters of galaxies, and the fourth project is to investigate the sample of clusters of galaxies returned by the largest single survey conducted by the XMM-Newton X-ray astronomy satellite. This survey has found thousands of X-ray sources, about 1000 of which are clusters of galaxies which emit X-rays from the hot gas that they contain. This hot-gas emission can be used to estimate the masses of the clusters, and the distribution of cluster masses, which changes over cosmic time, is an excellent test for the type of Universe that we inhabit.

The fifth project investigates one of the issues with understanding the atmospheres of clusters of galaxies - the question of why the radiation from their atmospheres doesn't cause them to cool down, and stop being X-ray sources. The answer seems to be that the gas in clusters is reheated by the ejection of very hot, fast, gas from the regions near black holes at the centres of some of the galaxies in the clusters. This project is aimed at understanding the processes involved in that heating, the physics of the fast gas ejections, and whether the gas coming out from near black holes can make cluster gas magnetic.

While the clusters change with time, because of gas cooling and heating, and the changing size of the Universe, the galaxies within them also change. The sixth project is looking at how the galaxies within clusters change as the clusters change, and how clusters affect galaxies, and galaxies affect clusters. It is now possible to see very young clusters of galaxies, back when the Universe was only about 20% of its current age, and by tracking the changes in the galaxies and clusters from then until the present it may be possible to understand what is going on.

The final project involves the maintenance and improvement of codes used to work with catalogues of astronomical objects. These codes are essential when dealing with modern astronomical data, and are used world-wide, so are of great importance to many astronomers. Some have even found their way into public products like the Microsoft World-Wide Telescope.

Planned Impact

Direct beneficiaries from the research will be our academic colleagues and interested members of the public, who will be exposed to the research results through our lectures, talks in schools, podcasts, press releases, WWW pages, appearances on radio and TV, and exhibits in and around Bristol. More indirectly, the public may be affected by advice given to local MPs (Stephen Williams, Liam Fox) or City Councillors (such as Mark Wright, who did a PhD in the Astrophysics Group a few years ago).

Commercial benefits have already been had from the Isotope Group's research (via projects with Shell) and the TOPCAT work (projects with Microsoft Research). Spin-offs from the instrumentation development in the isotope work have benefitted Thermo-Fisher Finnigan, and from the Fourier Transform spectrometer constructed for the radio telescope have benefitted BEAM and AlphaData.

More generically, the sophisticated image and time-series analysis techniques used in our research can be applied to many problems. We will continue to work with the Atomic Force Microscopy group in the University to improve their imaging (as in recent imaging of moving DNA molecules), and are actively exploring the application of our techniques to medical imaging through the Clinical Research and Imaging Centre of the University.

Finally, the major economic output of this work will continue to be trained PhDs and PDRAs who mostly go into non-academic areas for their later careers. These careers have included local Government, the defense and security sector, plasma fusion research, meteorology, teaching, and finance.

Publications

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Adami C. (2018) The XXL Survey. XX. The 365 cluster catalogue in Astronomy and Astrophysics

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Ali S (2018) UV SEDs of early-type cluster galaxies: a new look at the UV upturn in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

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Ali S. S. (2018) Evolution of the UV upturn in cluster galaxies: Abell 1689 in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

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Ali S. S. (2018) UV SEDs of early-type cluster galaxies: a new look at the UV upturn in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

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Ali S. S. (2018) The rise and fall of the UV upturn: z = 0.3, 0.55, and 0.7 in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

 
Description The properties of quasar jets have been shown to be incompatible with the standard model for their origin. The evolution of galaxies through the "green valley" has been exposed. Survey work on X-ray clusters of galaxies is yielding cosmological and astrophysical results through a long series of publications. Work on the sub-mm and IR properties of early galaxies has been advanced, again through surveys, but also through gravitational lensing investigations. Software developments are commercially useful and are being applied by partners.
Exploitation Route The astrophysical results will lead to further investigations in a number of areas.
Sectors Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Transport

 
Description The TOPCAT software has formed a key component of data archive access for ESA and other international projects. Other software, developed as a result of Bristol's participation in the LSST project, is the subject of a confidential commercial agreement, but has been used to leverage two major contracts for the commercial company with which we are working. The group has also been assisting "We the Curious" in Bristol to develop proposals for outreach.
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Financial Services, and Management Consultancy,Transport
Impact Types Cultural

 
Description STFC Impact Accelerator Account
Amount £20,302 (GBP)
Organisation Science and Technologies Facilities Council (STFC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2014 
End 06/2015
 
Description STFC Impact Accelerator Account
Amount £15,793 (GBP)
Organisation Science and Technologies Facilities Council (STFC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2015 
End 12/2015
 
Title STILTS 
Description Starlink Tables Infrastructure Library Tool Set: software for handling tabular data in many formats, including methods compliant with Virtual Observatory protocols. 
Type Of Material Data Handling & Control 
Year Produced 2010 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Used in many astronomical databases; potential uses for other complicated databases. 
 
Title TOPCAT 
Description Tool for operations on catalogues and tables: general catalogue comparison/selection tool, much used by astronomers world-wide. 
Type Of Material Data Handling & Control 
Year Produced 2011 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Extensible to many table-based datasets where matching of entries is required. Has been used on experimental basis for medical work, for example. 
 
Title STILTS 
Description Set of command-line tools that can be used for powerful astronomical catalogue interrogation, manipulation, and plotting. 2010 releases v2.1-2, v2.2, v2.2-1 2011 releases v2.3, v2.3-1, v2.4 2013 releases v2.5, v2.5-1, v2.5-2 2014 releases v2.5-3, v3.0 
Type Of Technology Software 
Year Produced 2010 
Open Source License? Yes  
Impact Heavily used in catalogue manipulation, world-wide. 
URL http://www.starlink.ac.uk/stilts/
 
Title TOPCAT 
Description Astronomical data-handling software 
Type Of Technology Software 
Year Produced 2010 
Open Source License? Yes  
Impact Used internationally for interaction with large distributed databases. 2010 releases v3.5-2, v3.6, v3.7 2011 releases v3.8, v3.9 2013 releases v4.0b, v4.0-1 2014 releases v4.1, v4.2 
URL http://www.starlink.ac.uk/topcat/
 
Description Development of grant with "We the Curious", Bristol 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Development of proposal for engagement with individuals with visual impairment - so they can participate in astronomy.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018
 
Description Public lectures and science cafes 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Multiple public talks to astronomy societies and other organisations, also Science Cafes and other groups (e.g., Anglo-Polish society).

Activities tended to go on to time limit because of question-and-answer sessions, and have generated eMail questions after the fact from attendees. Continued requests for talks and other contacts based on experiences.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2006,2007,2008,2009,2010
 
Description Radio interview (BBC Radio Bristol; BBC Radio 4; BBC Radio Scotland) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Contacts from regional amateur astronomers, and astronomical societies.

Talks to local societies.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012,2013,2014
 
Description School student placements 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact 1/2 students per year visited the Group and worked with staff

Students became more focussed in aims for science sstudies at University level.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012,2013,2014