Lancaster University Astrophysics

Lead Research Organisation: Lancaster University
Department Name: Physics


The work proposed here tackles some of the most important open questions in astrophysics, broadly centred on understanding the formation and evolution of galaxies and the properties of the Universe itself. It is closely linked with the STFC Science Roadmap challenges pertaining to the roles and nature of dark matter and dark energy, the formation of the first stars and galaxies in the Universe, the still unsolved key question of how galaxies evolve and the development of stars and planets. In order to address such fundamental questions, we use complementary approaches involving observation and modelling of the most distant galaxies and relatively nearby systems of stars. We will shed light on the formation of the halo of our own Milky Way galaxy by measuring chemical abundances in globular clusters coupled with their motions as revealed by the Gaia mission. We will search nearby ultra-faint dwarf galaxies for evidence of the first generation of stars and the first supernova explosions to chemically enrich the environments of early galaxies. We will obtain a new sample of very distant galaxies using unique wide-area surveys, which provide the bright targets needed for detailed study of their physical properties. We will use the most distant Type Ia supernovae currently observable to improve our understanding of dark energy and the ultimate fate of the universe. Finally we will use modelling of stars that will potentially result in supernova explosions and, for the first time their planetary systems, to improve cosmological constraints by linking cosmology to stellar evolution and exo-planet research.

Our research involves making state-of-the-art observations using the world's most powerful and advanced telescopes such as the Hubble Space Telescope and facilities run by the European Southern Observatory including ALMA (the Atacama Large Millimeter Array) and the VLT (Very Large Telescope). At the same time the group is involved in the scientific planning for several new telescopes and instruments that will come online in the next 5-10 years and that will revolutionise research in astrophysics. These include the 4MOST spectrograph, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) and in space the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and the European Space Agency's Euclid and FLARE missions.

Planned Impact

The beneficiaries of this research are primarily academics interested in the important areas of STFC Science Challenges as described in the STFC Science Roadmap, particularly understanding how galaxies like our own Milky Way formed and evolved, improving the precision of SN Ia measurements to better understand the roles of dark matter and dark energy, understanding the distribution of dark matter, and processes in the early universe. The impact of this research will be disseminated in the form of open-access publications in peer-reviewed journals, and talks at national and international conferences.

The research also has important economic and societal impacts. Research in astronomy and astrophysics addresses some of the most fundamental questions about our origins and the Universe around us. The excitement it generates inspires young people to enter science and research. All members of the Astrophysics group give regular public lectures and will continue to use examples from their own research to enthuse public audiences. The group is also involved in the Physics department's schools outreach program, working with the departments Schools outreach Officer. The Department of Physics offers day-long "Cosmology and Astrophysics Masterclasses" and residential work experience and courses throughout the year. The new Observational Astrophysics group at Lancaster will augment and expand the provision of such Masterclasses. Similarly, Drs. Arridge and Koch have in the past contributed to closer collaborations between amateur astronomers and academic scientists, which we will continue in the future via talk series and interactions with, e.g., the British Astronomical Association.

Finally, the applicants on this proposal have an excellent record in media engagement. Prof. Hook is regularly approached by the media to comment on cosmology and the next generation of telescopes. Dr. Arridge has been interviewed on BBC Radio Lancashire and BBC Radio 5 Live, and for articles in BBC News Online. The results of Prof. Hook, and Drs. Sobral and Arridge are featured in the amateur astronomy media, such as Astronomy Now and Sky at Night magazine. Dr. Arridge is also an established writer for The Conversation, writing about planetary science and space exploration and reaching an audience of >80000 readers. His articles have been republished by Scientific American, The Washington Post, and


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Description This grant has allowed us to study distant supernovae. With our international collaborators we have obtained data from the Hubble space telescope, and from the Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile, among others. In Lancaster, supported directly by this grant, we were responsible for obtaining and analysing the spectra from VLT. This has allowed us to measure the redshifts of a set of 26 very faint supernovae, of which 16 are beleived to be of Type Ia, and hence useable as distance indicators for measuring the cosmological parameters of the Universe. A paper presenting the spectroscopic results is near completion. The analysis of the cosmological parameters, and in particular the effects of Dark Energy at different cosmic epochs, is still underway.
Exploitation Route These results will be of interest to the astronomy and general physics community who are interestsed in the proerties of Dark Energy. Depending on the results, our work may influence design of future experiements, surveys and missions.
Sectors Education,Other

Description The impact of this award outside academia is mainly in the area of public engagement in sceince and education. The research directly funded in this award is concerned with the study of Dark Energy, and hence with our origins and the ultimate fate of the universe. This area of research captures the public interest and has been the subject of several public talks including those at local astronomical societies, and the large "Lovell Lecture" reported elsewhere in Researchfish. It is hoped that these engagement activities will help encourage the next generation into science. We have also given talks on this research at "masterclass" events for 6th form students visiting Lancaster University.
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Education
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

Description STFC Consolidated grant
Amount £1,403,127 (GBP)
Funding ID ST/R000514/1 
Organisation Science and Technologies Facilities Council (STFC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2018 
End 03/2021
Description Lovell Lecture 
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 Lovell Lecture series are large public lectures held at Jodrell Bank Observatory. There is a small fee for attendance. This talk was sold out and approximately 200 people attended. The talk aimed to describe the discoverty of the accelerating exapnsion of the universe, and the current research that is going on to understand what is causing it.There were several excellent questions from the audience afterwards, showing their interest in the subject. Several tweets followed.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017