Astronomy at St Andrews 2015-2018

Lead Research Organisation: University of St Andrews
Department Name: Physics and Astronomy

Abstract

The St Andrews astronomy group is interested in questions of origins: where do galaxies, stars and planets come from, and what fundamental physics explains their formation? We are world leaders in solving intricate mathematical problems, and we use novel methods such as observations at very high precision and simulations with super-computers. We are joined by other groups across Scotland via the Scottish Universities Physics Alliance (SUPA), and internationally, in searching for hot and cool Earth-sized planets, homing in on habitable worlds where life could exist.

Our research spans a wide range of size scales, from discovering planetary systems around stars a few light years away to measuring the force of gravity acting on the whole universe. We discover `hot Jupiters' by using robotic wide-angle cameras that monitor thousands of stars to find those that briefly dim each time an orbiting planet passes in front of its parent star. We discover cooler and smaller more Earth-like planets, using robotic telescopes to watch gravitational lenses, exploiting Einstein's prediction that a planet drifting across the sightline to a distant background star bends its light. We learn about how planets form by looking at the radiation from dust grains and pebbles, which are either in the process of forming planets or, like our comets, remnants of the planet forming process.

Young stars have strong magnetic fields that interact with orbiting planets and their own magnetic fields. We study the signatures of this
interaction to understand how planets form and evolve. We investigate the physics of mineral clouds and lightning in atmospheres of cool brown dwarf stars and extrasolar planets, processes altering our view of planetary systems and help us understand dust and lightning in volcanic eruptions on Earth. We use observations and numerical simulations to study how stars form in galaxies and how feedback from young stars drives a dynamic, bubbling interstellar medium, the dusty gas from which new stars are born. We include energetic supernova explosions when massive stars die and the ionising radiation from massive stars that heats the gas in the galaxy to temperatures above than 10,000 degrees Centigrade.

On cosmological scales, we conduct large scale galaxy surveys to study how their structure emerges, forming their characteristic shapes of flat discs, spiral arms and central bulges. We study the central engines of galaxies, the supermassive black holes that lurk in their hearts, to understand how they grow and how they affect the host galaxy evolution. We study how gravity works both in galaxies and in the universe. Stars orbit in galaxies so fast that there appears to be too little mass to hold the galaxies together. On larger scales, our expanding universe is accelerating. We understand gravity on small scales, well enough to send space probes to other planets, but these puzzles challenge our understanding of gravity on the larger scales of galaxies and beyond. We investigate alternatives to current ideas of Dark Matter and Dark Energy, comparing our predictions with observations to test how gravity works.

Thus we address all four of the STFC Science Roadmap Challenges: How did the Universe begin and how is it evolving? How do stars and planetary systems develop and is life unique to our planet? What are the fundamental constituents and fabric of the universe and how do they interact? How can we explore and understand the extremes of the universe? What are the laws of physics in extreme conditions? How do galaxies, stars and planets form and evolve? Are we alone in the Universe? We exploit major international and space observatories (ALMA, APEX, ASKAP, e-MERLIN, CFHT, ESO, CHARA, HARPS, HST, Gaia, Herschel, JCMT, Kepler, LCOGT, SMA, SOFIA, Suzaku, Swift, Spitzer, VLA, XMM) and future facilities including EUCLID, JWST, SKA, and PLATO.

Planned Impact

Our research creates three major kinds of impact, related to
(1) the insatiable public interest in the fundamental questions behind our existence that are being addressed,
(2) the practical implications for understanding atmospheric processes,
(3) the universality of techniques pioneered by our cutting-edge scientific endeavour.
Moreover, our facilities are of use beyond astronomy.

The widespread public fascination about objects in the sky is rooted in astronomy providing context to life on Earth. Our research on extra-solar planets, astrobiology, formation processes, and large-scale forces provides answers that cannot be found on our home planet. We thereby directly affect the culture of our society, using the media, museums, or other outreach organisations as intermediaries to stipulate members of various age groups to wonder, explore and investigate. Moreover, beyond any other scientific discipline, we inspire young people and motivate more of them to pursue careers in STEM subjects, leading to them acquiring skills that are essential for safeguarding the economic competitiveness of the UK.

Our research work and its consequences are widely and frequently presented in the national and world-wide media, both as news reports and features in major newspapers, magazines, radio, and TV stations, with several of our PIs having gained a substantial reputation. Members of our group have also published popular science books. We moreover address the public through exhibits as well as documentary films, having worked with the Dundee Science Centre, Mills Observatory Dundee, the American Museum of Natural History, the National Museum of Scotland, the Edinburgh International Science Festival, the Royal Society, the Royal Observatory of Edinburgh, and the Edinburgh College of Art. Upcoming partners include the Goethe Institute and the Zeppelin Museum.

Following the goals to connect people with our research, create opportunities for citizen engagement in science, and making the process of science transparent, our new project `Transparent Observatory' will see the University Observatory opening up to the public and involve a permanent exhibition, Scotland-wide advertising, as well as live observations of transiting exoplanets and young stars.

In collaboration with Qatar Foundation, we will not only contribute to the development of astronomy in the Gulf region, but create a global cultural experience for school classes from different countries.

We have been active in establishing networks involving other academic areas, the health sector, commercial companies, and government agencies.

The study of dust and cloud formation processes in stellar and planetary atmospheres is related to applications of substantial commercial value as well as safety. This includes dust removal from plasma-processing devices, fusion reactor safety, the safety of airports near volcanoes, as well as dust charging on Mars as a hazard for future explorations.

We established a cooperation with Ninewells Hospital in Dundee on photodynamic therapy for the treatment of skin cancer, using simulations of light propagation through human tissue and fluorescence based on radiation transfer codes.

Our dynamic real-time scheduling of robotic telescopes acts as a technology driver at the intersection of constraint programming and cloud computing, which are enabling technologies widely applicable in many disciplines in industry and academia such as industrial design, aviation, banking, combinatorial mathematics, as well as the petrochemical and steel industries.

Our local 0.94m James Gregory Telescope, the largest operating optical telescope in the UK, is used to discover space debris in geosynchronous and Molniya orbits, in collaboration with SpaceInsight, a company providing observations and tracking of man-made near-Earth objects, and supported by the UK Space Agency, the European Space Agency, and the Defense Science & Technology Laboratory.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Title Data underpinning - Prominence formation and ejection in Cool Stars 
Description Files with extension. dat given the values of the corotation radius and alfven radius used to plot Fig 1 in the paper. Also, code written in python used to calculate the values given in Table 2 of the same work 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? Yes  
 
Title Data underpinning - The Sun as a planet-host star: Proxies from SDO images for HARPS radial-velocity variations 
Description  
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2016 
Provided To Others? Yes  
 
Title Data underpinning - The low dark matter content of the lenticular galaxy NGC 3998 
Description Datacube (FITS format) has the following structure: x - fibre right ascension, in arcsec y - fibre declination, in arcsec xnode - X bin generator ynode - Y bin generator xbar - x luminosity-weighted centre ybar - y luminosity-weighted centre v - Velocity (km/s) s - Dispersion (km/s) h3 h4 ev - Velocity error (km/s) es - Dispersion error (km/s) eh3 - h3 error eh4 - h4 error 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2016 
Provided To Others? Yes  
 
Title Hierarchical Bayesian calibration of tidal orbit decay rates among hot Jupiters (dataset) 
Description Underpinning data for MNRAS paper of the same title. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? Yes  
 
Description HARPS-North 
Organisation Harvard University
Department Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution St Andrews, Belfast and Edinburgh paid for and fabricated the front end optics and control systems of HARPS-N.
Collaborator Contribution Harvard provided detectors, Geneva led the project and built the spectrograph. In exchange for the instrument, INAF have provided 80N/year of guaranteed observing time on the 3.5-m TNG over 5 years.
Impact The HARPS-N spectrograph is a high-precision radial-velocity instrument, similar to HARPS on the 3.6-m ESO telescope in Chile. It will be located in the Northern hemisphere and installed at the TNG on La Palma Island (Canary Islands) to allow for synergy with the NASA Kepler mission. The main scientific rationale of HARPS-N is the characterization and discovery of terrestrial planets by combining transits and Doppler measurements. To date it has produced 60% of the mass determinations in existence for transiting super-Earth and mini-Neptune planets discovered with the NASA Kepler/K2 mission. Over the next five years (2017-2022) further guaranteed time has been awarded by INAF to characterise planets transiting brighter stars from the NASA TESS mission and the Swiss-led ESA CHEOPS satellite following their respective launches in 2018.
Start Year 2010
 
Description HARPS-North 
Organisation National Institute for Astrophysics
Country Italy 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution St Andrews, Belfast and Edinburgh paid for and fabricated the front end optics and control systems of HARPS-N.
Collaborator Contribution Harvard provided detectors, Geneva led the project and built the spectrograph. In exchange for the instrument, INAF have provided 80N/year of guaranteed observing time on the 3.5-m TNG over 5 years.
Impact The HARPS-N spectrograph is a high-precision radial-velocity instrument, similar to HARPS on the 3.6-m ESO telescope in Chile. It will be located in the Northern hemisphere and installed at the TNG on La Palma Island (Canary Islands) to allow for synergy with the NASA Kepler mission. The main scientific rationale of HARPS-N is the characterization and discovery of terrestrial planets by combining transits and Doppler measurements. To date it has produced 60% of the mass determinations in existence for transiting super-Earth and mini-Neptune planets discovered with the NASA Kepler/K2 mission. Over the next five years (2017-2022) further guaranteed time has been awarded by INAF to characterise planets transiting brighter stars from the NASA TESS mission and the Swiss-led ESA CHEOPS satellite following their respective launches in 2018.
Start Year 2010
 
Description HARPS-North 
Organisation Queen's University Belfast
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution St Andrews, Belfast and Edinburgh paid for and fabricated the front end optics and control systems of HARPS-N.
Collaborator Contribution Harvard provided detectors, Geneva led the project and built the spectrograph. In exchange for the instrument, INAF have provided 80N/year of guaranteed observing time on the 3.5-m TNG over 5 years.
Impact The HARPS-N spectrograph is a high-precision radial-velocity instrument, similar to HARPS on the 3.6-m ESO telescope in Chile. It will be located in the Northern hemisphere and installed at the TNG on La Palma Island (Canary Islands) to allow for synergy with the NASA Kepler mission. The main scientific rationale of HARPS-N is the characterization and discovery of terrestrial planets by combining transits and Doppler measurements. To date it has produced 60% of the mass determinations in existence for transiting super-Earth and mini-Neptune planets discovered with the NASA Kepler/K2 mission. Over the next five years (2017-2022) further guaranteed time has been awarded by INAF to characterise planets transiting brighter stars from the NASA TESS mission and the Swiss-led ESA CHEOPS satellite following their respective launches in 2018.
Start Year 2010
 
Description HARPS-North 
Organisation University of Edinburgh
Department Institute for Astronomy
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution St Andrews, Belfast and Edinburgh paid for and fabricated the front end optics and control systems of HARPS-N.
Collaborator Contribution Harvard provided detectors, Geneva led the project and built the spectrograph. In exchange for the instrument, INAF have provided 80N/year of guaranteed observing time on the 3.5-m TNG over 5 years.
Impact The HARPS-N spectrograph is a high-precision radial-velocity instrument, similar to HARPS on the 3.6-m ESO telescope in Chile. It will be located in the Northern hemisphere and installed at the TNG on La Palma Island (Canary Islands) to allow for synergy with the NASA Kepler mission. The main scientific rationale of HARPS-N is the characterization and discovery of terrestrial planets by combining transits and Doppler measurements. To date it has produced 60% of the mass determinations in existence for transiting super-Earth and mini-Neptune planets discovered with the NASA Kepler/K2 mission. Over the next five years (2017-2022) further guaranteed time has been awarded by INAF to characterise planets transiting brighter stars from the NASA TESS mission and the Swiss-led ESA CHEOPS satellite following their respective launches in 2018.
Start Year 2010
 
Description HARPS-North 
Organisation University of Geneva
Department Geneva Observatory
Country Switzerland 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution St Andrews, Belfast and Edinburgh paid for and fabricated the front end optics and control systems of HARPS-N.
Collaborator Contribution Harvard provided detectors, Geneva led the project and built the spectrograph. In exchange for the instrument, INAF have provided 80N/year of guaranteed observing time on the 3.5-m TNG over 5 years.
Impact The HARPS-N spectrograph is a high-precision radial-velocity instrument, similar to HARPS on the 3.6-m ESO telescope in Chile. It will be located in the Northern hemisphere and installed at the TNG on La Palma Island (Canary Islands) to allow for synergy with the NASA Kepler mission. The main scientific rationale of HARPS-N is the characterization and discovery of terrestrial planets by combining transits and Doppler measurements. To date it has produced 60% of the mass determinations in existence for transiting super-Earth and mini-Neptune planets discovered with the NASA Kepler/K2 mission. Over the next five years (2017-2022) further guaranteed time has been awarded by INAF to characterise planets transiting brighter stars from the NASA TESS mission and the Swiss-led ESA CHEOPS satellite following their respective launches in 2018.
Start Year 2010
 
Description WASP 
Organisation American River College
PI Contribution Design and implementation of WASP data-analysis pipeline. Design and implementation of WASP transit-search software. Design and implementation of WASP transit-fitting and orbit-determination software.
Collaborator Contribution QUB: Fabrication, installation and operation of SuperWASP. Keele: Fabrication, installation and operation of WASP-South. Leicester: Design, implementation and maintenance of WASP data archive.
Impact WASP is the most successful of the ground-based searches for transiting exoplanets, having now found nearly 200 planets. The collaboration has produced over 200 refereed publications, and the WASP archive continues to produce new discoveries in the era of NASA's Kepler and TESS missions.
 
Description WASP 
Organisation Keele University
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Design and implementation of WASP data-analysis pipeline. Design and implementation of WASP transit-search software. Design and implementation of WASP transit-fitting and orbit-determination software.
Collaborator Contribution QUB: Fabrication, installation and operation of SuperWASP. Keele: Fabrication, installation and operation of WASP-South. Leicester: Design, implementation and maintenance of WASP data archive.
Impact WASP is the most successful of the ground-based searches for transiting exoplanets, having now found nearly 200 planets. The collaboration has produced over 200 refereed publications, and the WASP archive continues to produce new discoveries in the era of NASA's Kepler and TESS missions.
 
Description WASP 
Organisation Open University
Department School of Physical Sciences
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Design and implementation of WASP data-analysis pipeline. Design and implementation of WASP transit-search software. Design and implementation of WASP transit-fitting and orbit-determination software.
Collaborator Contribution QUB: Fabrication, installation and operation of SuperWASP. Keele: Fabrication, installation and operation of WASP-South. Leicester: Design, implementation and maintenance of WASP data archive.
Impact WASP is the most successful of the ground-based searches for transiting exoplanets, having now found nearly 200 planets. The collaboration has produced over 200 refereed publications, and the WASP archive continues to produce new discoveries in the era of NASA's Kepler and TESS missions.
 
Description WASP 
Organisation University of Leicester
Department Department of Physics & Astronomy
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Design and implementation of WASP data-analysis pipeline. Design and implementation of WASP transit-search software. Design and implementation of WASP transit-fitting and orbit-determination software.
Collaborator Contribution QUB: Fabrication, installation and operation of SuperWASP. Keele: Fabrication, installation and operation of WASP-South. Leicester: Design, implementation and maintenance of WASP data archive.
Impact WASP is the most successful of the ground-based searches for transiting exoplanets, having now found nearly 200 planets. The collaboration has produced over 200 refereed publications, and the WASP archive continues to produce new discoveries in the era of NASA's Kepler and TESS missions.
 
Description "Curriculum for excellence" - Teacher training 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact We have been involved in training sessions for school teachers across Fife, providing support for Scotland's "Curriculum for Excellence".
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015,2016
 
Description ACC Astron. Society Elgin 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Andrew C. Cameron gave a lecture to the SIGMA Astronomical Society in Elgin on 6 Oct 2017, entitled: "Transiting extra-solar planets: From hot Jupiters to super-Earths".
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Deep dark - pale blue 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The LCOGT/SUPAscope 1m robotic telescope network, its science, and the people related to it, are being featured in a series of exhibitions involving photography as well as audio and video installations. The first such exhibitions took place in Konstanz (Germany) and Kreuzlingen (Switzerland), as well as in Edinburgh. The event in Edinburgh was accompanied by a series of talks and discussion sessions.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015,2016
URL http://deepdarkpaleblue.com
 
Description Fascination Astronomy 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact A US-$1m grant from Qatar National Research Fund has been awarded to Martin Dominik for an extensive public engagement programme to run mainly in Qatar, but also to bring together school classes from different countries to work together on common projects. Beyond being a cornerstone for the development of astronomy in Qatar and the wider region, it will make demonstrate the power of public engagement for development and impact on society as laid out in the IAU "Astronomy for Development" Strategic Plan.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015,2016,2017
URL http://www.astroqatar.org
 
Description James Gregory Telescope 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The James Gregory Telescope is Scotland's largest telescope and a heritage product of St Andrews University. Every month we open the telescope for a tour and a public demonstration.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014,2015,2016
 
Description SHINE 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact SHINE is a project to connect astronomy, art and music during the International Year of Light.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014,2015
 
Description St Andrews Observatory Open Nights 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The Observatory Open Nights are public engagement events at the St Andrews Observatory. They include stargazing, talks, telescope demonstrations, children's activities, and exhibits. Every year we organise 2 open nights. With several hundred visitors each time, this is one of the most recurring popular astronomy outreach events in Scotland.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014,2015,2016
 
Description St Andrews Observatory Open Nights 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The Observatory Open Nights are public engagement events at the St Andrews Observatory. They include stargazing, talks, telescope demonstrations, children's activities, and exhibits. Every year we organise 2 open nights. With several hundred visitors each time, this is one of the most recurring popular astronomy outreach events in Scotland.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://observatory.wp.st-andrews.ac.uk
 
Description The visit - An alien encounter 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Martin Dominik acted as scientific advisor for Michael Madsen's film "The visit - An alien encounter" (which premiered at the renowned Sundance Film Festival), in which a wide range of experts are confronted with the hypothetical scenario of an alien life form visiting planet Earth.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description University of St Andrews Mobile Planetarium 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact The Mobile Planetarium shows recreate the sky as it would look on the night of the show and can be tailored to suit the age range of the audience. It can be booked by schools and clubs to perform shows twice a month with a maximum of six shows on any given day. In addition, the Mobile Planetarium participates in the yearly Science Day and the bi-annual Open Night at the Observatory at the School of Physics & Astronomy, University of St Andrews.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016,2017,2018
URL http://www-star.st-and.ac.uk/planetarium/index.html