Galactic dynamics

Image: Composite image of M81. Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Our research

Galaxies like our own dominate star formation in the current Universe, so understanding how our Galaxy works and evolved to its present state is key if we are to understand the Universe as a whole. Massive surveys of our Galaxy are currently underway and (chemo-)dynamical models of the Galaxy will be central to extracting the promised science from these surveys. We are using novel techniques to build such models and to fit them to the survey data. These methods can be applied to other nearby, well studied galaxies, so we also work on other galaxies in the Local Group and there is overlap with the work carried out by the Galaxies research group, which works on more distant galaxies.

Dynamical models are the key to mapping the matter content of galaxies. Consequently, we use these models to measure the masses of black holes in galaxy centres, and we plan to map the mysterious dark matter that envelopes galaxies.

The kinematics and chemistry of stars are strongly correlated, and we expect to be able to uncover the Galaxy's history of star formation by simultaneously modelling the diffusion of stars through phase space and the evolution of the chemical content of the interstellar medium. The latter reflects the balance between heavy-element enrichment by evolved stars, and exchange of gas with the metal-poor intergalactic medium, which still contains most of the ordinary matter in the Universe.