in the first instance, or contact the project supervisors to seek more
details about the programme.
Near-infrared and optical observations with the VLT/VLTI, Gemini and
future LBT, JWST and ELT objectives include the aim of resolving the
immediate environment of young stars. These are the regions where material
is accreted, jets are launched and collimated, and accretion discs evolve
into protoplanetary discs. In collaboration with Bonn (Weigelt, Preibisch)
and Heidelberg (Gredel, Herbst), a collection of high-mass young stars
have been imaged in fine detail, and direct comparison with numerical
simulations has proven very encouraging. Spitzer and ALMA predictions have
already been published by Rosen (CAPS visitor) and Smith. This project is
aimed at building on this programme by interfacing MHD simulations with a
radiative transfer code to predict how jet precession, orientation and the
magnetic field determine observed structures. A second project will study
the effect of FU Orionis outbursts on protostellar cores via MHD
Martian surface science and impact cratering
How do materials typical of the Martian surface respond to high speed impact events?
What traces of the shock history can we find in samples impacted at high speed in our laboratory?
What does this imply for analysis in-situ on Mars at impact crater sites? This is a timely topic
given the latest NASA Mars lander mission and planned future European Space Agency missions.
Kent is not part of these missions, but we are leaders in impact studies and the questions above
are very topical. The work would use our in-house impact facility and our materials characterisation
(Prof. Mark Burchell)
Pluto is a body which will be observed by a fly-by of NASA's New Horizon's spacecraft in 2015.
This work will use laboratory impacts on ice targets to predict the effect impact cratering will
have on Pluto's surface and what ejecta might be produced and where it might go. Kent is not part
of the New Horizon's mission but we are experts on impacts on ices and this work will be very timely.
As a result of extensive work on the data from the NASA Stardust mission to comet 81P/Wild 2,
we have a chance to add significantly to our understanding of cometary science. As well as analysing
real cometary dust using our in-house Raman spectrometer and scanning electron microscope, the
student would use our light gas gun to produce analogue samples to those collected by the Stardust
mission. As well as individual results we wish to generalise our work to a more complete picture of
The spread across the Solar System of complex organic molecules is an important precursor for life.
Impacts play a role in this, both in terms of the distribution process, as well as in terms of adding
complexity to the basic chemistry. We wish to investigate how impacts interact with increased complexity
of organic molecules, building on our long term interests and activity in this field.
Structure and Physics of the youngest protostars
Stars are critical to the nature of the Universe. It is of great importance in
astrophysics to understand the physical processes that govern the distribution
and accumulation of stellar masses. The project will analyse the properties of
protostars in nearby star forming regions drawn from our database and new upcoming
surveys. Statistical comparisons of model predictions with protostellar
observables (temperature, luminosity, mass, outflow luminosity) will lead to a
quantitative proposition for which star formation model explains the currently
available observational data best. Together with radiative transfer modelling
we will investigate in detail the structure and physics of the youngest
protostars and relate it to the environment they are in. This will lead to a
better understanding of the time evolution of individual sources and the
advance of star formation on scales of molecular clouds.
(Dr. Dirk Froebrich)
Molecular Hydrogen outflows from young stars
The formation of low and high mass stars is governed by accretion
processes. However, these objects do not only accrete mass, they also
eject large amounts of material in jets, outflows and winds. These
outflows interact with the surrounding molecular material via shocks and
transfer energy and momentum into the parental cloud. The brightness and
length of the outflows give indications of the evolutionary stage of the
driving young star, as well as about the conditions of the environment.
This project will analyse near infrared narrow band molecular hydrogen
emission line images taken with the UK Infrared Telescope. The survey
covers about 150 square degrees along the Galactic Plane. It will
determine how the statistics of molecular hydrogen outflows from young
stars depends on the environment (high vs. low mass star formation;
clustered vs. isolated star formation), as well as generating a complete,
unbiased inventory of molecular hydrogen emission line objects over a
large fraction of the Galaxy.
(Dr. Dirk Froebrich)
Star Clusters as Building blocks of our Galaxy
Star clusters are the building blocks of galaxies. The project will determine
ages, metallicities, reddening and distances for our recently obtained large,
homogeneous and luminosity limited sample of star clusters in the Galactic
Plane. This will result in the largest known and well classified stellar cluster
sample to date. Based on this sample (or selected sub-samples, such as a
distance or age limited sample) the projected and spatial distribution of
clusters in the Galaxy, depending on age and metallicities will be studied to
learn about infant mortality and external cluster disruption processes (tidal
stress, interactions with molecular clouds). The spatial distribution of stars
within the clusters will be analysed by means of minimum spanning trees.
Analysed with respect to the age of the cluster, we will have means to
investigate the internal physical processes of cluster evolution (mass
(Dr. Dirk Froebrich)
Direct Detections of the Asteroidal YORP Effect
The YORP effect is a torque that can modify the rotation rates and spin-axis
orientations of small asteroids in the solar system. YORP torques are caused by
the combined effects of incident solar radiation pressure and the recoil effect
from anisotropic emission of thermal photons. Several observed phenomena in
asteroidal science indicate that such a torque acts upon the surfaces of
asteroids and meteoroids, for which the YORP effect is the only realistic
mechanism. Despite its importance, there existed only indirect evidence for the
presence of YORP on solar system objects, until recently.
(Dr. Stephen Lowry)
The first direct detection of the YORP effect was achieved by Dr Lowry and
colleagues, by conducting optical and radar observational campaigns over 4 years
on the small near-Earth asteroid, (54509) 2000 PH5 (Lowry et al., 2007, Science
316, 272-274; Taylor et al., 2007, Science 316, 274-277). Since then, the
effect has been observed on just a few other asteroids due to the difficulties
encountered in making such detections.
Dr Lowry is leads a new approved observational programme at the European
Southern Observatory (ESO) that will make extensive use of the 8.2m VLT and the
3.5 NTT observing facilities over the next 4 years. This ESO Large Programme is
designed to survey a large sample of small near-Earth asteroids at optical
wavelengths to detect the YORP effect acting on these bodies, and to determine
their likely surface compositions. Thermal-IR observations will be taken with
the VISIR instrument, for detailed thermal analyses of their surfaces, important
for constraining theoretical determinations of the strength of the YORP effect
acting on our target NEAs.
This ESO programme is a collaboration with colleagues from the Open University,
Queen's University Belfast, Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research
(Germany), and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (California, USA).
The student will assume a major role in the overall analysis and scientific
interpretation of the full optical and thermal-IR data sets (CCD imaging and
spectroscopy) as well as participating in several observing trips to the ESO
telescope facilities in Chile, and the United States.
Astronomical Observations of Cometary Nuclei at Optical and Thermal-
The central icy cores of comets are remnant material from the original
accretion disc of our solar system and preserve, to varying degrees, a record of
the conditions that existed during its formation. Understanding the physical,
compositional, and dynamical properties of comets is crucial if we are to
understand how our solar system formed, its subsequent evolution, and how it
will likely evolve in the future. This project will focus on Jupiter-family
comets (JFCs), which are a subset of the known cometary population. Dynamical
studies have placed their source region within the Kuiper Belt beyond Neptune, a
vast reservoir of cometary bodies that formed in-situ some 4.5 billion years
ago. Studying JFCs provide valuable insight into the physical and compositional
properties of small Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs), much too faint to be observed
from Earth (see Lowry et al. 2008, In 'The Solar System Beyond Neptune' book,
University of Arizona Space Science Series).
(Dr. Stephen Lowry)
SEPPCoN is a large international collaborative project whose goal is to
accumulate high quality physical data on cometary nuclei, and so far the
collaboration has acquired a vast amount of data on a large sample of JFCs. The
dataset includes thermal-infrared imaging data from NASA's Spitzer Space
Telescope, as well as optical imaging from many large ground-based
observatories. This PhD project will build upon the success of SEPPCoN, and the
student will assume a major role in the acquisition of new data sets from
international telescope facilities, mainly in Chile, to expand the sample. The
student will also gain experience in processing and scientific analysis of large
Gravity and turbulence compete to turn interstellar gas into stars.
Other processes, however, such as feedback, magnetic fields and
radiation influence the duel. Exactly how may be determined by an
overwhelming amount of data from SCUBA-2, Herschel, SOFIA and ALMA through
both imaging and spectroscopy. UKIDSS and VISTA provide NIR survey data.
The implications will be aided by a set of model predictions which cover
a range of physical possibilities.
In these projects, we will execute an extended range of detailed
simulations involving a wide variation in physical and dynamical
processes to search for critical values of parameters.
In two projects, SPH and finite difference codes will be further
developed to include modules to interface directly with observable quantities.
High-mass Star Formation and the Structure of the Milky Way
Massive stars (>8 M⊙ and 103 L⊙) have a profound impact on their
environment. They shape the interstellar medium (ISM) with their strong
stellar winds and ionizing radiation, regulating star (and planet)
formation, and ultimately drive the chemical and physical evolution of their
host galaxies. However, our understanding of the initial conditions required
for their formation and the processes involved in the early evolution of
massive stars are still rather poor.
(Dr. James Urquhart)
Our ability to make significant progress in this field has been dramatically
enhanced in recent years with the completion of a large number of Galactic
plane spectral-line and continuum surveys that cover the whole wavelength
range from the near-infrared to the radio. This PhD project will exploit
these multi-wavelength surveys to quantify the star formation across the
inner Galactic disk and provide a truly global view of star formation
throughout the Milky Way.
The primary aims of the project will be to use these Galaxy-wide surveys to:
1) determine the evolutionary sequence for massive star formation, the
statistical lifetimes for each stage and the initial conditions; and 2) to
use the Galactic distribution of these massive star forming clumps to
construct a 3-dimensional map of the distribution of the dense gas across
the Milky Way and evaluate the role the spiral arms and environment plays in
the star formation process.
If there are projects that you think are within our area of interest, that you are particularly interested in researching towards,
please contact the appropriate member of staff directly, or if you wish to apply, please
contact Prof. Michael Smith
Please note: at present, the offer of projects depends heavily on financial constraints.