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Physics Astronomy and Astrophysics Group

The Astronomy and Astrophysics group at Warwick is one of the newest additions to the Department of Physics, beginning life in September 2003 with the appointment of Prof Tom Marsh. We are interested in stars and planets, how they live and how they die, and the exotic physical processes that they allow us to explore. We are both an observational and theoretical group, and we make use of a wide range of ground-based telescopes, such as ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile and the Isaac Newton Group of telescopes (ING) in the Canary Islands, as well as space telescopes such as NASA's Chandra and ESA's XMM-Newton X-ray observatories and the Hubble Space Telescope.

The objects we study are dynamic and can change within minutes, seconds and even milli-seconds. We specialise in the high-speed data acquisition and analysis techniques needed to track them. Members of the group have contributed to the development and exploitation of the ULTRACAM high-speed photometer, the Wide Angle Search for Planets project (WASP), the Next Generation Transit Survey (NGTS) and are preparing to deploy the Gravitational Wave Optical Transient Observer (GOTO) . We are also heavily involved in the development of space missions including ESA's Exoplanet missions - PLATO (launch 2024) and CHEOPS (launch 2018).


25-29 July 2016: EuroWD16. The University of Warwick will host the 20th European White Dwarf Workshop. This meeting cover the structure and evolution of white dwarfs, as well as a wide range of astrophysical problems in which white dwarfs play a central role, such as SN Ia progenitors, the local star formation history, and evolved planetary systems.

7 Jan 2016: Out-of-Town RAS Meeting "The future of Astronomy and Planetary Science in the Ultraviolet". The University of Warwick will host an RAS 'Out of Town' meeting on Thursday 7th January 2016. This meeting will be on current UK research at Ultraviolet wavelengths, covering both planetary science remote sensing and astrophysics topics.

3D Convection in White Dwarfs15 Dec 2015: Dr. Pier-Emmanuel Tremblay, Assistant Professor in Warwick, has been awarded a 1.5 million Euro Starting Grant from the European Research Council (ERC). The research project entitled "Evolution of white dwarfs with 3D model atmospheres" will soon recruit 1 PDRA and 3 PhD students to work on theoretical aspects of white dwarf research, in close connection with the observational work currently accomplished within the Warwick astronomy group.

Artist impression of the debris disc around the white dwarf SDSS1228+104011 Nov 2015: Astronomers from Warwick University have captured for the first time and image of an asteroid being ripped apart by a dead star and forming a glowing debris ring. Read the Warwick press release, and the preprint from ArXiv. Image credit: Mark Garlick/University of Warwick.


25 June 2015: Published in the journal Nature, a team including Warwick astronomer Peter Wheatley has discovered a giant comet-like tail of hydogren gas evaporating from a Neptune-sized exoplanet. The gas is thought to be boiled off by X-rays from the parent star and then swept away by radiation pressure. The tail was revealed in Hubble Space Telescope observations in which 56% of the star is covered by the tail in ultraviolet light. The planet is losing its atmosphere at a rate of 1000 metric tonnes per second, having narrowly escaped total evaporation by the intense X-ray irradiation it suffered when its parent star was young and active. Read the Warwick press release, the full journal article in Nature, or the preprint from ArXiv. Image credit: Mark Garlick/University of Warwick.
See for example coverage by the Washington Post, and the Daily Mail.

24 June 2015: The Warwick astronomy group has been very successful in the latest round of time allocation on the Hubble Space Telescope, and will lead six projects in the forthcoming Cycle 23, including a 67-orbit GO program and a 75-orbit snapshot program: Boris Gänsicke (An HST legacy ultraviolet spectroscopic survey of the 13pc white dwarf sample and The frequency and chemical composition of rocky planetary debris around young white dwarfs: Plugging the last gaps), Mark Hollands (The dawn of rocky planet formation), Andrew Levan (The late time behaviour and environments of the first gravitational wave transients), Chris Manser (A highly dynamical debris disc in an evolved planetary system) and Elizabeth Stanway (Understanding the star formation environment of a very low redshift, low luminosity, long Gamma Ray Burst). These observations were facing an oversubscription of approximately six to one.

7 May 2015: A research team led by Warwick astronomers Roberto Raddi and Boris Gänsicke have found that water delivery via asteroids or comets is likely taking place in many other planetary systems, just as it happened on Earth. Read the Warwick press release and the paper in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

NGTS14 January 2015: Warwick astronomers have begun searching for small planets around bright stars using an array of twelve robotically-controlled telescopes. The telescopes, which form a wide-field observing system called the Next Generation Transit Survey (NGTS), are designed to detect the slight dimming of a star when a planet passes across its face. The NGTS team aims to find planets the size of Neptune down to twice the size of the Earth. Dr Peter Wheatley, one of the NGTS project leaders, said "The NGTS discoveries, and follow-up observations by telescopes on the ground and in space, will be important steps in our quest to study the atmospheres and composition of small planets such as the Earth.”
Read more in press releases from ESO and Warwick.
See also regional BBC News coverage.
Image: ESO/G.Lambert

WD-NS merger08 August 2014: A research team led by Warwick astronomers Joe Lyman and Andrew Levan have investigated the locations of peculiar 'calcium-rich' supernovae, which are often seen to explode at huge distances from any nearby galaxy. They postulate the merger of white dwarf-neutron star binary systems 'kicked' from their galaxy may explain these remote locations. The Warwick press release can be found here.

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Very Large Telescope

Very Large Telescope (VLT), ESO, Chile

Hubble Space Telescope
Hubble Space Telescope (NASA/ESA)