Astronomy at Durham 2023-2026

Lead Research Organisation: Durham University
Department Name: Physics


Astronomy attracts the imagination of the public to an extent that few other branches of science can match - this is due, in large part, to the fundamental nature of the questions it addresses: the origin of the Universe and our place within it.

Our understanding of the universe has developed rapidly over the last few decades. On the basis of the standard cosmological model we live in a universe where at least two thirds of the mass energy is in the form of dark energy which causes the Universe to expand at an ever increasing rate. About a quarter of the mass energy is in the form of dark matter, most probably a new weakly interacting elementary particle yet to be detected on Earth (and hence of great interest to particle physicists). The remaining five percent of the mass energy is in the form of ordinary, or baryonic, matter of which only about a tenth is in stars and planets such as the Earth, and the rest resides mostly as gas in between galaxies. The structures formed by dark and baryonic matter are thought to have been seeded by quantum fluctuations imprinted in the density field of the Universe at the earliest instants of the Big Bang. These produced weak sound waves in the near-uniform primordial plasma that left observable imprints on the heat left over from the Big Bang, emitted when the Universe was only 400,000 years old (now visible as the Cosmic Microwave Background). These tiny ripples grew into the full richness of structures we see around us in the Universe today: galaxies, groups, clusters and larger-scale structures.

Our programme combines cutting-edge theoretical and observational projects to determine the formation and evolution of structure in the Universe and to confront the predictions of our models with our latest observational results, while exploiting instrumentation developments pursued in Durham. We will explore astrophysical clues to the identity of the dark matter, focus on the evolution of galaxies back to the earliest times in the Universe and the influence which their environment has had on their properties. We will investigate the formation and evolution of stars and black holes and their role in determining the structure and properties of galaxies and larger-scale structures, using the latest instruments on ground-based observatories and Earth-orbiting satellites.


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Kugel R (2023) FLAMINGO: calibrating large cosmological hydrodynamical simulations with machine learning in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

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Scaringi S (2023) Cataclysmic variables are a key population of gravitational wave sources for LISA in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society: Letters