Physics and Astronomy PhD (Astrophysics and Space Research specialism)

The research carried out by the Astrophysics and Space Research Group covers a wide range of areas, with programmes of international importance in gravitational physics, extragalactic and stellar astrophysics, extrasolar planets, and the study of the sun and heliosphere.

The research carried out by the Astrophysics and Space Research Group covers a wide range of areas, with programmes of international importance in gravitational physics, extragalactic and stellar astrophysics, extrasolar planets, and the study of the sun and heliosphere. In addition, the group's Centre for Space and Gravity Research develops instrumentation for space astronomy and physics, as well as for ultra-sensitive ground-based measurements.

In the gravitational area, we are at the forefront of the emerging field of the use of gravitational waves as a new window on the universe. We are centrally involved in the development and application of complex data analysis techniques, using our own 200-CPU Beowulf cluster, as part of the science consortium for the current front-ranking, ground-based detectors GEO600 and LIGO.

We are also engaged in constructing the second-generation ground-based gravitational wave detector, Advanced LIGO, which will supersede these, as well as space-based GW observatories like LISA, which offer the promise of still higher sensitivity in the next decade. In addition, we are developing a novel microwave detection system for high-frequency gravitational waves, and have a vigorous programme of research into the measurement of extremely weak forces, using interferometric and other sophisticated experimental techniques.

Our extragalactic research group has established a strong reputation in the study of galaxies, groups and clusters of galaxies, and the large-scale structure of the universe. This comprehensive and highly integrated programme gives our work a distinctive environmental flavour. We have a strong record of winning time on major international observational facilities, at X-ray, optical and radio wavelengths.We combine these observations with innovative data analysis and modelling techniques and hydrodynamical simulations of large-scale hot gas flows in our research.

A feature of our work is the study of gravitational lensing, which can magnify very distant galaxies, and directly probe the cosmic distribution of dark matter. New developments within the group include collaborations with colleagues in the School of Computer Science, with the aim of introducing advanced algorithms into astronomy, and integrating them into the rapidly developing Virtual Observatory, in which the UK plays a strong role.

Closer to home, the group has a strong interest in X-ray binary systems, involving neutron stars and black holes, which are studied using data from a variety of space-borne observatories. Finally, we are involved in the rapidly growing field of extrasolar planets. We have developed instrumentation for a wide variety of satellites studying the sun and heliosphere, and as a result, have access to information on activity in the sun and its surrounding environment, extending to the outer solar system. Recently launched solar instruments are also being employed to search for the subtle variations in stellar brightness, which signal the presence of transiting extrasolar planets.