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Astrophysics, ERC Starting Grant to Unifi researcher

For research on the origin of the Milky Way starting from dwarf galaxies

Ása Skúladóttir, researcher at the Unifi Department of Physics and Astronomy, was awarded a 1.5 million euro StartingGrant by the European Research Council. Her research project, focused on dwarf galaxies, studies the origin of the Milky Way and its chemical elements.

The project TREASURES: Digging into Dwarf Galaxies, led by Skúladóttir, aims to use new data on nearby dwarf galaxies to answer fundamental questions about our Milky Way and the origin of the chemical elements.

Like all larger galaxies, the present-day Milky Way has been built up through a sequence of mergers of smaller dwarf galaxies throughout its lifetime. Around the Milky Way there are now dozens of known dwarf galaxies, and stellar streams – many of which are old dwarf galaxies that have been disrupted by their interaction with the Milky Way.

Thanks to new instrumentation and the Gaia space mission, it is now possible to accurately select the member stars of these systems and systematically target them to get high-quality spectra of individual stars. The 4DWARFS survey (Principal Investigator: Skúladóttir) will use the new spectrograph 4MOST, on the VISTA telescope in Chile, to target all the known dwarf galaxies and stellar streams in the South, collecting the data in the years 2024-2029.

The ERC project TREASURES will use these data to study individual stars of various ages, thereby tracking the evolution of the Milky Way and its chemical enrichment throughout cosmic time, in much greater detail than possible for its many, more distant, extra-galactic counterparts.

TREASURES will therefore aim to answer fundamental questions such as: What are the properties of the first stars in the Universe? How were the chemical elements like carbon, iron and gold created and distributed throughout the cosmos?

This data gives also the unique opportunity of trying to understand the hierarchical build-up of the Milky Way, and provide the most comprehensive overview available of the evolution of dwarf galaxies, reconstructing their histories from formation to disruption.

Ása Skúladóttir is from Iceland. She graduated with a PhD in Astronomy in 2016 from the Kapteyn Institute at the University of Groningen, and worked as a post-doc at the Max Planck Institute for astronomy (MPIA) in Heidelberg, Germany, from 2016-2019. Since fall of 2019 she has been working at the University of Florence.

05 September 2023
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