Research in Astrophysics at The University of Bristol

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: Physics

Abstract

This proposal is for a grant to researchers in astrophysics at the University of Bristol.

Much recent cosmology has been based on investigations of galaxy clusters. The first project will make reliable measurements of cluster masses and other parameters. This involves statistically rigorous investigations of cluster samples drawn from X-ray sky surveys - the hot gas in the clusters shines in X-rays. The clusters span a wide mass range and are seen over half the age of the Universe, so we take into account their evolution over time.

Massive galaxies within current-day clusters have very old stellar populations. They finished forming their stars in the first few billion years after the big bang, unlike most galaxies outside clusters. Understanding details of their formation is crucial to understanding their nature. Our second project will identify and study galaxies in proto-clusters (progenitors of today's clusters) as they form their stars, building a picture of the inter-related evolution of clusters and their galaxies.

A third project explores the physics of matter falling into black holes. It will determine how X-ray observations can reliably measure the black hole mass, spin rate, and geometry of the environment close to the black hole. Galaxies and their central black holes grow together, so reliable measurements of black hole mass and spin rates can test models of galaxy evolution. Observing the close environment of super-massive black holes is both intrinsically interesting, and is a key goal for the next generation of X-ray satellites such as the ESA's Athena observatory.

A fourth project looks at how tiny regions in the centres of individual galaxies, near central black holes, affect gas on the large scale - by stopping cooling of the atmospheres of galaxy clusters, and by making the atmospheres more magnetic over time. A feedback process, in which cluster gas is reheated by the ejection of very hot, fast, gas from the regions near black holes is involved, at least in one heating mode. Having identified the sources responsible for this heating, we now want to understand how the process works.

The fifth project involves maintenance and improvement of the TOPCAT software, a catalogue and data manipulation tool used world-wide and of great importance to many astronomers in their interactions with data sets of increasing size and complexity and which is now finding creative uses well beyond astronomy. The project will also contribute to the critical international Virtual Observatory framework that enables remote data access for TOPCAT and other software and interoperability between them.

A sixth project will use in-hand HST and guaranteed JWST observations of a transiting giant exoplanet to characterise the chemical makeup, dynamics, and evolution through measurements of its atmospheric transmission and emission in unprecedented detail. We will use these observations to develop new data analysis pipelines for JWST to produce the most complete dataset for a single exoplanet atmosphere.

Two further projects explore exoplanets from a theoretical perspective. Project seven investigates the nature of the gas/dust disks around young stars in which planets form. As young pieces of planets collide and assemble into larger planets they can destroy one another. Some disks around young stars may show evidence of this destructive side of planet formation. We will carry out computer calculations to interpret extreme examples of dusty disks to see if they evolve through giant impacts between young planets.The final project is a theoretical study into polar vortices in the atmospheres of planets around other stars and how they may affect their habitability. When combined with JWST observations, it will result in a detailed model of the atmosphere of TRAPPIST-1e, an Earth-sized exoplanet orbiting in its star's habitable zone.

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 or City Councillors (such as Mark Wright, who did a PhD in the Astrophysics Group a few years ago).

The TOPCAT software is accessible enough for use by non-research users, and is in wide use in undergraduate projects, as well as by amateur astronomers, and in non-astronomy academic and industrial settings.

Spin-offs from the Fourier Transform spectrometer constructed for our local radio telescope have benefitted BEAM and AlphaData. Research associated with the study of variability in active galaxies has formed the basis of a commercial contract, and provides some support for algorithm development relevant to LSST and SKA, as well as being of commercial benefit.

Further exploitation through an Impact Accelerator contributed to an industrial collaborator being awarded two significant contracts and also providing work for a local SME with whom we work on commercial-quality coding of our algorithms. More generically, the sophisticated image and time-series analysis techniques used in our research can be applied to many problems.

We advise the Goonhilly Earth Station Company on various technical development and education initiatives related to their ground station and are exploring how this collaboration can benefit the CubeSat project at Bristol.

We will continue to work with the Atomic Force Microscopy group in the University to improve their imaging, and contribute image analysis expertise to a project which uses real-time imaging of bacteria to assess the effectiveness of antibiotic treatments in clinical situations.


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

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description SPRINT INNOVATION VOUCHER -Applied remote sensing for soil contamination monitoring
Amount £49,263 (GBP)
Funding ID OW131797P6V1A 
Organisation United Kingdom Research and Innovation 
Department SPRINT
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 11/2021 
End 03/2022
 
Title ExoTIC 
Description This is a repository for the reduction pipeline detailed in Wakeford, et al., 2016, ApJ. The method implements marginalization across a series of models to represent stochastic models for observatory and instrument systematics. This is primarily for HST WFC3, however, may be extended to STIS in the future. 
Type Of Material Data analysis technique 
Year Produced 2022 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Pipeline for analysis of JWST & HST data on exoplanet atmospheres 
URL https://github.com/Exo-TiC
 
Description CHeCS 
Organisation Harvard University
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Working together on cluster sample
Collaborator Contribution Working together on cluster sample
Impact Publications -ongoing
Start Year 2018
 
Description CHeCS 
Organisation University of Turin
Country Italy 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Working together on cluster sample
Collaborator Contribution Working together on cluster sample
Impact Publications -ongoing
Start Year 2018
 
Description CHeCS 
Organisation Western Washington University
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Working together on cluster sample
Collaborator Contribution Working together on cluster sample
Impact Publications -ongoing
Start Year 2018
 
Description DEVILS 
Organisation International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR)
Country Australia 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Design & analysis of data resulting from large spectroscopic extragalactic survey (ongoing/planned)
Collaborator Contribution Observation, image and spectroscopic analysis of full survey, management of survey, ongoing studies with the data from survey
Impact Publications
Start Year 2018
 
Description Euclid survey 
Organisation European Space Agency
Department ESA Laboratories
Country European Union (EU) 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Pre-launch analysis of calibrations for photometric redshifts. Galaxy image classification preparation. AGN science planning
Collaborator Contribution Design of spacecraft, instrumentation & survey to be carried out by mission (to be launched 2023)
Impact Many high impact publications after launch
Start Year 2016
 
Description GAIA Team 
Organisation ESA - ESTEC
Country Netherlands 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Taylor has written much of the database access code for end-users, including major graphical display improvements.
Collaborator Contribution ESA satellite project to map star positions in the Galaxy: highly successful at generating vast database, requiring our database access methodology
Impact Extensive database for studies of structure of Galaxy. Publications
Start Year 2009
 
Description LSST:UK 
Organisation University of Edinburgh
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Co-authors of study papers Input into governance & strategy via Board
Collaborator Contribution Development of UK infrastructure, involvement in and exploitation of Vera Rubin Observatory
Impact Access to Rubin observatory. Data analysis and access infrastructure. Detailed science exploitation plan, will result in many high impact publications
Start Year 2016
 
Description SKA Magnetism SWG 
Organisation Max Planck Society
Department Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy
Country Germany 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Working with the team on issues to do with source populations, calibration across wide fields, radio galaxies
Collaborator Contribution Studies on wide-field polarisation imaging
Impact Publications
Start Year 2016
 
Description XMM Heritage programme on Planck clusters 
Organisation CEA Saclay
Country France 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Analysis of X-ray data; statistics
Collaborator Contribution Combination with other datasets
Impact Publications
Start Year 2018
 
Description XMM Heritage programme on Planck clusters 
Organisation Harvard University
Department Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Analysis of X-ray data; statistics
Collaborator Contribution Combination with other datasets
Impact Publications
Start Year 2018
 
Description XMM Heritage programme on Planck clusters 
Organisation Max Planck Society
Department Max Planck Institute For Extraterrestrial Physics (MPE)
Country Germany 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Analysis of X-ray data; statistics
Collaborator Contribution Combination with other datasets
Impact Publications
Start Year 2018
 
Description XMM Heritage programme on Planck clusters 
Organisation National Institute for Astrophysics
Department Bologna Observatory
Country Italy 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Analysis of X-ray data; statistics
Collaborator Contribution Combination with other datasets
Impact Publications
Start Year 2018
 
Description XMM Heritage programme on Planck clusters 
Organisation National Institute for Nuclear Physics
Department National Institute for Nuclear Physics - Milano
Country Italy 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Analysis of X-ray data; statistics
Collaborator Contribution Combination with other datasets
Impact Publications
Start Year 2018
 
Description XMM Heritage programme on Planck clusters 
Organisation Sorbonne Universités
Country France 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Analysis of X-ray data; statistics
Collaborator Contribution Combination with other datasets
Impact Publications
Start Year 2018
 
Description XMM Heritage programme on Planck clusters 
Organisation University of Manchester
Department School of Physics and Astronomy Manchester
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Analysis of X-ray data; statistics
Collaborator Contribution Combination with other datasets
Impact Publications
Start Year 2018
 
Description XMM Heritage programme on Planck clusters 
Organisation University of Toulouse
Country France 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Analysis of X-ray data; statistics
Collaborator Contribution Combination with other datasets
Impact Publications
Start Year 2018
 
Description XXL/XMM-LSS collaboration 
Organisation Saclay Nuclear Research Centre
Department Service d'Astrophysique
Country France 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Co-authored multiple papers and proposals
Collaborator Contribution Access to XMM-LSS/XXL datasets, pipeline analysis of datasets that allowed selection of clusters for follow-up research
Impact Multiple publications on cosmology and astrophysics; development of concept for future surveys.
 
Title Topcat and related software 
Description TOPCAT and related libraries provide means of accessing, displaying, and comparing catalogue data from remote or local databases. The software is the predominant astronomical catalogue manipulation package. 
Type Of Technology Software 
Year Produced 2022 
Open Source License? Yes  
Impact Used for Gaia and many other projects. New versions are frequently released. The most recent public release of TOPCAT is version 4.8-3 reeled 31 January 2022, but continual maintenance updates are regularly released 
URL http://www.star.bris.ac.uk/~mbt/topcat/
 
Description Aerospace Bristol Key stage 2 School engagement activity 
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 Members of the group engaged with the museum coordinators to provide scientific insight on telescopes and their observations. We delivered a recorded video presentation on the history and most important discoveries of the Hubble space telescope. This material will be shown to students are preparation before their visit to the museum.
We also designed a pin-hole camera with everyday material, suitable for the pupils to create on the day of their visit. Through this activity the students will understand the nature of light.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://aerospacebristol.org/schools
 
Description Engagement activities 
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 Institute for Research in Schools (IRIS) Virtual Conference, May 12th 2021
Filton Schools, Bristol, Yr 5 Q&A Being a Scientist at Bristol, September 22nd 2021
Webb UK Autumn online events, Exoplanets @ National Space Center, October 19th 2021
New Scientist, Interview, Print, November 4th 2021
Auckland Astronomical Society, Burbidge Lecture, November 8th 2021
Naked Scientists, BBC Radio 5 Live, November 23rd 2021
Royal Observatory Greenwich, Christmas Lecture, December 11th 2021
Space Rocks Live, JWST planets special, January 26th 2022
International Women's Day Panel, University of Bristol, March 8th 2022 (with Zoë as well)
Cheshire Astronomical Society March 17th 2022

JWST News coverage:
Sunday Times, Print, December 9th 2021
BBC News 24, TV, December 24th 2021
BBC 5Live, Radio, December 22nd , 23rd & 24th 2021
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021,2022