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Smoke and mirrors: the driving forces in extreme galaxies (AST/2020/BLA)

Project Description

The most powerful galaxies in the Universe have been identified over the last decade using a variety of infrared-sensitive telescopes, including the catalogue produced by the WISE all-sky surveyor in space, and by the South Pole Telescope on the ground. Surrounded by dense gas and dust, it is relatively difficult to recognize these galaxies as the extreme examples they are using more traditional optical-based surveys. The picture shows W2246, the galaxy in the early Universe that currently holds the record for luminosity, showing how much structure is visible in observations of its gas content shown by contours, extending beyond the region where the bulk its power is radiated, traced by the colourscale.

Within the dramatic objects, stars are being formed and black holes siphoning gas into their cores at the highest rates ever seen, rates that cannot be sustained for even a fraction of the age of the Universe. The details of how their gas is processed within them, and the causes that trigger their outstanding levels of activity are less clear. Models of galaxy evolution typically include relatively steady processes that fall short of the violent changes we see in the most luminous systems.

We will embark on a journey to combine archived observations of the most dramatic objects with modelling of how gas is processed into stars and the central black hole inside these galaxies to develop a better understanding of their fuelling, to investigate what limits the duration of their blazing a thousand times brighter than a typical galaxy, and whether there is a limit to the total power produced by these remarkable galaxies.

The results will help to motivate and hone plans to use the ultra-sensitive ALMA telescope in Chile in its most effective way to zoom in the most promising observations to answer these questions (see the example of an ALMA image of the structure in one such galaxy in the picture), and to extract the maximum value from the five-year lifetime of the forthcoming James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).

Entry Requirements

UK Bachelor Degree with at least 2:1 in a relevant subject or overseas equivalent.

The University of Leicester English language requirements apply.

Home/EU students only subject to residency requirements.

Application Instructions

When applying, please ensure we have received all of the following required documents by Wednesday 29th January 2020:

• Submit an online application form
• 2 academic references
• STFC Research Interests Form
• CV
• Undergraduate transcripts
- If you have completed your undergraduate degree, we will also require your undergraduate degree certificate
- If you have completed a postgraduate degree, we will also require your transcripts and degree certificate

If we do not have the required documents by the closing date, your application may not be considered for the studentship.

Interview Dates

26th February 2020 – In person
27th February 2020 – Skype only
28th February 2020 – Skype only
2nd March 2020 – Skype only
3rd March 2020 – Skype only
4th March 2020 – In person

Funding Notes

Funding Source: STFC Quota Studentship

3.5 year Studentship provides a tuition fee waiver at UK/EU rates, stipend at UKRI rates and RTSG.


1. Dias-Santos et alk. Science, 2018, 362, 1034 doi:10.1126/science.aap7605
2. Casey et al. Astro2002 White Paper,
3. Diaz-Santos et al. 2016, ApJL, 816, L6 doi:10.3847/2041-8205/816/1/L6

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