From Planck to Planets: Probing the Structure of the Universe

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester
Department Name: Physics and Astronomy


We propose to carry out a research programme to probe structure formation from the early Universe to the present day. Our programme addresses several key Science Questions in the STFC roadmap, and contains five interlinked themes: (A) studies of the cosmic microwave background, (B) cosmological simulations of groups and clusters, (C) gravitational lenses, galaxy formation and dark matter, (D) star formation throughout the universe, (E) the Galaxy and its constituents: Investigating extrasolar planets, black holes and the Galactic structure with gravitational microlensing. Astrophysics is now entering an exciting precision era. Many observations in the last decade indicate that the geometry of the Universe is flat and the Universe is dominated by dark matter and dark energy, with the ordinary matter contributing only about 5% to the total matter-energy density. A standard (LambdaCDM) model of structure formation is successful in explaining many observations. However, many key questions remain to be answered, in particular how present-day structure such as extrasolar planets, stars, galaxies emerge from the tiny quantum fluctuations in the early universe, which reveals themselves in cosmic microwave background radiation. Our proposal combines theoretical and multi-wavelength (ranging from radio to gamma-ray) observational expertise at the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics to address this critical question. We will use existing and next generation ground-based instruments and space satellites (such as PLANCK) to achieve several important goals: to determine precisely the cosmological parameters, to understand the nature of gravity (theme A) and probe the hot gas content in clusters of galaxies (themes A and B); how and where stars form and how the subsequent supernova explosions and accretions onto central super-massive black holes regulate the formation of galaxies, groups and clusters (themes B and D); how stars mix with dark matter in our own and other galaxies (themes B-E), and finally the discovery of stellar-mass black holes and extrasolar planets with the gravitational microlensing technique (theme E). We will exploit the iconic status of Jodrell Bank to perform public outreach, in particular through the Jodrell Bank Visitor Centre and the UK's top-ranked regular broad-topic astronomy podcast, The Jodcast. Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics enjoys strong support from The University of Manchester - the Centre has recently moved to the new Alan Turing building, and eight new academics have been appointed in the last three years to further consolidate the teaching and research activities.


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