Galactic Archaeology

Staff and students within the E.A. Milne Centre are pioneering the use of ‘forensic technologies’ for uncovering the physics driving the formation and evolution galaxies, including our own Milky Way.

Adapting the same powerful hydrodynamical tools used by the biomedical, aerospace, and automotive engineering industries, our team mines the fossil chemical record encoded in the stars and gas clouds of galaxies, an exploration known as ‘galactic archaeology’.

By blending the physics of star formation, energy feedback from exploding stars, and the nucleosynthesis of chemical elements, we use supercomputers to recreate simulations of our local corner of the Universe. The data is observed with ‘artificial telescopes’ – telescopes built inside supercomputers which view computer data in the same way that real telescopes observe the night sky.

The ‘chemical fingerprints’ that we extract from the Milky Way’s stars can be used to identify the locations in the Galaxy most likely to harbour Earth-like rocky planets and complex biological life, research for which we were awarded a ‘Top 10 News Story of the Year’ by National Geographic Magazine.

Students and staff: Brad Gibson, Gareth Few, Marco Pignatari, Chris Jordan

Image: NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory reveals a spiral galaxy similar to the Milky Way glittering with hundreds of X-ray points of light. Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Wesleyan Univ./R.Kilgard, et al; Optical: NASA/STScI