Galaxy evolution behind the curtain: mapping and understanding dust attenuation

01 October 2018 → 14 December 2020
Research Foundation - Flanders (FWO)
Research disciplines
  • Natural sciences
    • Astronomy and space sciences
Galaxy evolution
Project description

Galaxies continuously convert hydrogen gas into heavier elements through the creation and evolution of stars. An important tool to quantitatively study the evolution of the elements that make up the Universe is to measure the star formation rate over time. However, this measurement is considerably complicated by the presence of dust grains intermixed with the gas. Dust obscures on average one third of the stellar radiation, making it difficult, for instance, to count newborn stars. It is thus particularly important that we understand how strong the attenuating effect of dust is on our observations of galaxies. Standard dust corrections rely on simplified, average attenuation formulae. The new generation of spectrographs can actually map the light of galaxies both spatially and spectrally at high resolution. This is a goldmine for in-depth studies of both stars and dust. We propose to gather the data described above for a large set of nearby galaxies, where dust is also already directly observed in emission. This unique dataset, and new, state-of-the-art
modelling of the spectra, will enable us to quantify the dust attenuation in unprecedented detail. Doing this for a wide range of galaxies will enable us to accurately measure star formation behind the curtain of dust obscuration. With these new insights, we will position our institute in the vanguard to analyse data from new telescopes such as the upcoming JWST, probing galaxies across the universe until the cosmic dawn.