Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg
Research Groups

Research Groups

The actual astrophysical research at ZAH covers a broad spectrum in theory and observation ranging from nearby stars, via the Milky Way, external galaxies and quasars, up to the microwave background. The ZAH is involved furthermore in the development and building of instrumentation and the processing of special hard- and software. A special focal point is represented by the "Sonderforschungsbereich" SFB 881 (The Milky Way System), where all astronomical institutes in Heidelberg participate. The Heidelberg Graduate School of Fundamental Physics in the frame of the excellence initiative aims to the interrelation of particle physics and cosmology.

Research at ZAH is primarily organized and focused into Research Groups. At present, the following groups are established at ZAH:


Galaxy Evolution Group at ARI

Astronomical image

Head: Prof. Dr. Eva K. Grebel

 

This group's goal is to understand how galaxies formed and evolved over a Hubble time. Dwarf galaxies and the Milky Way are a special research focus. Star clusters and other stellar populations serve as valuable witnesses of the formation history of a galaxy, providing a fossil record also of its chemical and dynamical evolution and accretion history. The properties of galaxies in groups and clusters constrain their assembly histories, the origin of different galaxy types, and drivers of galaxy evolution such as environment. Large international survey projects such as the SDSS, RAVE, Pan-STARRS, the Gaia-ESO Survey, and soon ESA's cornerstone mission Gaia provide a substantial part of the observational data, complemented by targeted follow-up with HST and other telescopes.

 

http://www.ari.uni-heidelberg.de/mitarbeiter/grebel/group.html


Gravitational Lensing Group at ARI

Image to gravitational lensing with logo

Head: Prof. Dr. Joachim Wambsganss

Gravitational lensing is the deflection of light by massive objects in the universe. This changes the positions of background objects, magnifies them and distorts their shape. The most spectacular phenomena are multiple images (two or more) of a single background source. At the ARI multiply imaged quasar are studied with respect to brightness changes, light curves, time-delay determination and microlensing. Moreover, gravitational lensing is used to discover planets around other stars.

http://www.ari.uni-heidelberg.de/mitarbeiter/wambsganss/


Statistics and Cosmology Group at ARI

Image showing the Cosmic Microwave Background

Head: Prof. Dr. Bjoern Malte Schaefer

 

This group studies statistical properties of the large scale structure and investigate the sensitivity of cosmological probes such as lensing and CMB anisotropies for constraining of cosmological models and measuring cosmological parameters. The main tools are cosmic perturbation theory for the description of structure growth processes and statistical tool such as Markov chains for exploring parameter spaces, non-Gaussian random processes and statistical inference. Additionally, the group investigates tidal interactions of galaxies with the surrounding large-scale structure and work on the description of these alignment processes in the language of weak lensing. Applications of our investigations are/will be done in with the PLANCK- and EUCLID-projects.

 

http://www.ita.uni-heidelberg.de/~spirou/research.html


Computational Stellar Dynamics Group (Silk Road Project) at ARI

Image of Dr. Spurzem aside of computing machine

Head: apl. Prof. Dr. Rainer Spurzem

In the computational stellar dynamics group structure, dynamics and mass distribution of stellar systems are investigated. This ranges from the formatioin and evolution of planetary systems, evolution of star clusters, the Milky Way and other galaxies, to Newtonian and relativistic dynamics of black holes embedded in dense stellar systems. Since mathematical solutions for real astrophysical systems are very rare, computer simulations are an important tool in this field. Data extracted from high-performance computer modelling are compared with theory or observations. For example we have recently simulated the evolution of a one million-body star cluster with results comparable to observations with modern ground or space based telescopes; and we are predicting gravitational wave (GW) emission from black holes in star clusters across the entire GW spectrum. Some of the predictions are in currently observed windows, some will only be in the future become observable. In the Silk Road Project we collaborate with the National Astronomical Observatories in China and other astrophysical institutes on the Silk Road (Kiev, Ukraine; Almaty, Kazakhstan); cutting edge supercomputing facilities with GPU accelerators are used in Germany and China. For early adopting of new hardware and software a supercomputing development lab is operated by our team at the ARI, which has partly been funded by SFB881 and by Volkswagen Foundation (GRACE project).

http://wwwstaff.ari.uni-heidelberg.de/mitarbeiter/spurzem/index.html http://silkroad.bao.ac.cn


Theoretical galaxy evolution and stellar dynamics group at ARI

Image shows Hess diagram of star counts at the NGP

Head: apl. Prof. Dr. Andreas Just

 

Three main topics are investigated in this group. The dynamical interaction of galactic nuclei with the orbital evolution and growth of supermnassive black holes after a galaxy merger is investigated by high resolution numerical simulations. A semianalytic chemodynamical model of the Milky Way disc is developed on the basis of an evolutionary scenario and large observational catalogues like the SDSS/SEGUE and the RAVE data base. The dynamical evolution of open clusters in the tidal field of the Milky Way and detailed models of individual clusters are investigated theoretically and with the help of star-by-star simulations. The image shows the Hess diagram of star counts at the NGP: model (top), SDSS data (bottom)

 

http://www.ari.uni-heidelberg.de/mitarbeiter/just/


Dwarf Galaxy Research Group at ARI

Image of Early-type dwarf galaxies

Head: Priv. Doz. Dr. Thorsten Lisker

 

We seek to understand the environmentally influenced evolution of low-mass, "dwarf" galaxies, including all types from the most compact to the most diffuse objects. We investigate the structure and internal dynamics of dwarf galaxies through multiwavelength imaging and spectroscopic observing campaigns, the influence of environment through an analysis of galaxy clusters and groups with different characteristics, and the connection between the dark matter halo population and the visible dwarf galaxies through numerical simulations and galaxy evolution models.

 

http://www.dwarfgalaxies.net


Gaia Group at ARI

Image of GAIA logo

Head: Dr. Michael Biermann

 

This group of about 10 people (roughly half of them being software developers) prepares, directs and executes essential parts of the astrometric core processing for the ESA mission ``Gaia''. Group members include the Gaia Project Coordinator and the head of the Gaia Consortium's astrometry division. Gaia will be launched in late 2013, operate from 2014 to 2019, and will deliver first science releases in 2015 or 2016. It aims at micro-arcsecond-level astrometry of 1 billion stars, plus multi-band photometry and spectroscopy. The Gaia group at ARI is the present incarnation of the institute's 300-year tradition in positional astronomy, reference systems and ephemerides.

 

http://www.ari.uni-heidelberg.de/gaia/


Lifecycle of Star Clusters Group at ARI

Astronomical image

Head: Priv.-Doz. Dr. Eng. Genevieve Parmentier

 

The Lifecycle of Star Clusters Group aims at constraining the formation conditions of star clusters, and the imprints they leave on the properties of star cluster systems. To achieve our goals, models are developed and compared consistently with observational results. The image shows four modelling outcomes: the bound fraction of stars in clusters after gas expulsion in dependence of their mass-radius relation at birth (top-left panel), the limit for massive star formation in the mass-size space of molecular structures (top-right panel), the volume density profiles of gas and stars in a cluster-forming clump (bottom-left panel), and the corresponding radial profile for the star formation efficiency (bottom-right panel).


http://wwwstaff.ari.uni-heidelberg.de/mitarbeiter/gparm/


Galaxy star formation history group at ARI

Astronomical image

Head: Dr. Anna Pasquali

 

Star formation plays a fundamental role in the evolution of galaxies, as stars change the properties of the interstellar medium, and thus change the initial conditions of the next episode of star formation. The details of such a complex mechanism are still observationally not well established. The research conducted by this group focuses on the properties of star-forming regions and young star clusters in the Milky Way and in external galaxies, as well as on the stellar populations of early-type galaxies up to z~2 in order to constrain the star formation history and the mass growth of galaxies. Galaxy evolution is driven not only by intrinsic processes, but also by environmental effects. This groups studies how galaxy environment changes the properties of satellite vs central galaxies as a function of galaxy group/cluster dark matter content. Observational data come from SDSS, ESO, LBT, CAHA, IAC/La Palma and HST.


White Dwarfs group at ARI

White dwarf size in relation to the Earth

Head: apl. Prof. Dr. Stefan Jordan

 

Stars with initial masses up to about eight solar masses finally end up as white dwarfs. With typically 0.6 solar masses and radii of about 10^9 cm (0.01 solar radii) the mean densities of white dwarfs are of the order of 10^5-10^6 g/cm^3 so that these stars can be considered as laboratories for matter at extreme densities and pressures. About 10% of the white dwarfs have magnetic fields with strengths from 1 kG to 1 GG. The measurement of the field strength, the determination of the field geometry, and the interpretation of the results within the framework of stellar evolution is the major goal of this working group. Additionally, there is a connection to basic physics because only magnetic white dwarfs offer the opportunity to study the behaviour of atoms in strong magnetic fields in detail.

 

http://www.stefan-jordan.de


Galaxy clusters Group at ARI

Astronomical image

Head: Dr. Robert W. Schmidt

 

The intergalactic gas in galaxy clusters is extremely hot (>10^7 K) and thin (about 100 particles per cubic meter), and it radiates by thermal bremsstrahlung in the X-ray regime. We use spectroscopic and imaging data from X-ray satellites to study density and temperature of the gas, and to infer the distribution of dark matter in galaxy clusters to compare with cosmological simulations. X-ray masses are complemented by observations of gravitational lensing effects in the optical regime.

 

http://www.ari.uni-heidelberg.de/mitarbeiter/rschmidt/


Theoretical Astrophysics Group at HITS and ARI

Simulation of cosmic structure

Head: Prof. Dr. Volker Springel

 

This group focusses on cosmic structure formation, explored with the help of large N-body and hydrodynamic simulations. The group's central research topic is galaxy formation, which is characterized by a complicated non-linear blend of gravity, hydrodynamics, nuclear and atomic physics, as well as magnetohydrodynamics and radiation physics. The research of the group aims to untangle these physical processes and to reliably predict the outcome of structure growth, starting from simple physical conditions in the primordial universe. The group also seeks clues to the nature of the dark matter and dark energy, with the goal to advance strategies for observationally constraining the dark sector of the universe. The development of highly parallel and efficient numerical methods able to run on the world's most powerful supercomputers forms another important theme in this group.

 

http://www.h-its.org/tap


Virtual Observatory/eScience Group at ARI

Illustration of using the virtual observatory

Head: Dr. Markus Demleitner

 

Astronomy is rapidly becoming a data-intensive science, which means that mining diverse and/or large data collections drives large parts of current research. This requires the constant development of a powerful information technology infrastructure. At ARI, we do our part by particpating in the Virtual Observatory via the GAVO project, for which we are operating a data center and developing server software as well as user programs (e.g., splat) and standards for computer protocols and data models.


Multi-scale Star Formation Group at ARI

Head: Dr. Diederik Kruijssen

 

The research of the Multi-scale Star Formation Group is aimed at understanding how all stars in the Universe formed. Part of this question may be addressed with high-resolution observations of star formation in the Milky Way, but the quiescent, low-pressure conditions in our Galaxy are not representative for most of the star formation in the history of the Universe. The Multi-scale Star Formation Group therefore studies star formation and feedback under a wide range of conditions, from the local Universe out to high redshift, using high-resolution numerical simulations, theoretical work, and state-of-the-art observational facilities such as ALMA and the Hubble Space Telescope. Particular areas of interest are globular cluster formation, star formation in the Galactic Centre, and star formation during galaxy formation, from the scale of individual molecular clouds to that of the galaxy population.


Cosmology Group at ITA

Image of reconstructed cosmological structures

Head: Prof. Dr. Matthias Bartelmann

 

The cosmology group has three main topics. One is the study of cosmological structure formation based on methods of non-equilibrium dynamics akin to those used in quantum field theory (definition of generating functionals for field variables and their cumulants, renormalization etc.). Cosmological structure statistics based on fluctuations in the gravitational potential is an important additional aspect. A second topic of study is to use strong and weak gravitational lensing to understand the internal structure of galaxy clusters, using simulations and measurements of gravitational lensing effects to first and second order, up to the reconstruction of galaxy clusters. Finally, the turbulence in the intracluster plasma is studied using adaptive mesh refinement simulation methods.

 

http://www.ita.uni-heidelberg.de/research/bartelmann/research.shtml


Star Formation Group at ITA

Dynamical density map and time evolution of sink formation

Head: Prof. Dr. Ralf Klessen

 

This group work on different aspects of star formation in the Galaxy as well as in the early universe. Interstellar turbulence and formation and evolution of molecular clouds are studied, as well as the dynamical evolution of the Milky Way and its satellite galaxies. As this work relies heavily on computer simulations, the group also works on developing and improving numerical methods for astrophysics.

 

http://www.ita.uni-heidelberg.de/research/klessen/index.shtml


Physics of Stellar Objects Group at HITS Group at ITA

Three-dimensional simulation of a Type Ia supernova explosion (Image: F. K. Röpke).

Head: Prof. Dr. Friedrich Röpke

 

This research group seeks to understand the processes in stars and stellar explosions based extensive numerical simulations. Newly developed numerical techniques and the ever growing power of supercomputers facilitates a modeling of stellar objects in unprecedented detail and precision.

 

http://www.h-its.org/en/research/pso/


Planet Formation Group at ITA

Simulation of surface density in protoplanetary disk

Head: Prof. Dr. Cornelis Dullemond

 

The planet formation group studies how planets and exoplanets are formed from cosmic dust in protoplanetary disk. This is done with numerical modeling, focusing on the structure, the formation and the evolution of planetary birthplaces (protoplanetary disks), the coagulation, fragmentation and motion of dust aggregates in these disks, the formation of planetesimals (i.e. 1-100 km-size bodies such as comets and asteroids), the runaway and oligarchic growth of planetary embryos out of swarms of planetesimals and the N-body interactions between newly formed planets. In addition, methods and codes for multi-dimensional radiative transfer are developed, for use in circumstellar and interstellar matter.

 

http://www.ita.uni-heidelberg.de/~dullemond/group.shtml


Galaxy Clusters Group at ITA

Head: Dr. Matteo Maturi

 

The path of photons traveling through the Universe is deflected by the presence of matter fluctuations. This deflection phenomenon called gravitational lensing allows us to quantify the amount of matter in the universe, draw conclusions on how this matter is distributed and in general understand the properties of our Universe. In a certain sense it is an open window to an invisible universe. Within this context, (1) we search for giant gravitational arcs (strongly distorted images occurring in the vicinity of galaxy clusters); (2) we develop methods to measure the shape of galaxies to perform weak lensing analysis; (3) we use both strong and weak lensing, together with X-ray SZ and velocity dispersion observations, to reconstruct the matter distribution of galaxy clusters; (4) we study how to constrain cosmological parameters by counting peaks in weak lensing maps. All these studies take advantage of both ground based and space based data, as well as numerical simulations.

http://www.ita.uni-heidelberg.de/~maturi/projects.html


Cosmic Dust Group at ITA

Image of cosmic dust

Head: apl. Prof. Dr. Hans-Peter Gail

 

The cosmic dust group studies the physics and chemistry of cosmic dust, the formation of dust in circumstellar envelopes, mass loss in evolved stars, protoplanetary disks, planet formation, cosmochemistry and the matter cycle in the Galaxy.

 

http://www.ita.uni-heidelberg.de/~gail/fint.html


Interstellar Medium and Star Formation Group at ITA

Distribution of gas and dust at different wavelengths

Head: Dr. Frank Bigiel

 

This group focuses on observational studies of the distribution and the physical properties of gas and dust and their role in the star formation process in galaxies. These studies range from small scales, such as the properties of individual molecular clouds, to galactic scales, e.g., to understand why some galaxies, or certain regions within galaxies, are forming stars more efficiently than others and how this is linked to the conditions in the interstellar medium. The main goals are to develop a better understanding of the matter cycle in galaxies and of galaxy evolution over cosmic time.


Astrochemistry and ISM Dynamics Group

Head: PD Dr. Simon Glover

 

The work of the Astrochemistry and ISM Dynamics Group focusses on two main topics: understanding how the physics of the ISM influences the location and efficiency of star formation, and studying how best to compare observations and simulations of the cold, dense gas in the ISM. One of the big open questions regarding star formation in galaxies is why the process is so inefficient, with only around 1% of the available molecular gas converted to stars per dynamical time. It seems clear that stellar feedback must play an important role in regulating the star formation rate and keeping the efficiency small, but the details of how this happens are not currently understood. We are therefore involved in a long-running effort to simulate the effects of stellar feedback on the ISM using state-of-the-art numerical techniques. Much of this work is being carried out as part of the SILCC project (SImulating the Life-Cycle of molecular Clouds; P.I. Prof. S. Walch-Gassner, Köln), but we are also carrying out complementary studies in Heidelberg using the AREPO moving-mesh code. The other main goal of our current efforts is understanding how to compare the results of simulations such as this to observations of the real ISM. The information provided to us by observational tracers of the gas in the ISM (e.g. HI 21cm emission or dust thermal emission) is inevitably incomplete and biased, making it far from straightforward to compare simulations and observations. Our approach is therefore to construct synthetic "observations" of our simulation results that can then be analyzed in exactly the same manner as real observations of the ISM. (Image: Map of [CII] surface brightness from a portion of a simulated galactic disk.)


Instrumentation Group at the LSW

Image of the 3.5m telescope at Calar Alto

Head: Prof. Dr. Andreas Quirrenbach

 

At the LSW various instrumentation projects are undertaken. These include CARMENES (the visual and near-infrared high-resolution planet-finding spectrograph for the Carlar Alto 3.5 m telescope), LUCIFER (the near-infrared imaging spectrograph for the LBT), 4MOST (4-metre Multi-Object Spectroscopic Telescope).

 

https://carmenes.caha.es/index.html


Exoplanet Group at the LSW

Image of a stellar radial velocity curve

Head: Prof. Dr. Andreas Quirrenbach / Priv.-Doz. Dr. Sabine Reffert

 

The exoplanet group at the Landessternwarte uses two different methods to search for exoplanets: Doppler spectroscopy and astrometry. While Doppler spectroscopy yields the tiny changes in the radial velocity of the parent star while it orbits around the common center of mass of the system, astrometry yields the changes in position in the tangential plane caused by the same effect. We use instrumentation at Lick Observatory and Paranal Observatory to search for these subtle effects, and we have found, among others, the first planet orbiting a giant star.

 

http://www.lsw.uni-heidelberg.de/projects/exoplanets/


Galactic Archaeology Group at the LSW

Image of star orbits in a galaxy

Head: Prof. Dr. Norbert Christlieb

 

The Galactic Archaeology Group at Landessternwarte Heidelberg is concerned with the search for the most metal-poor and hence oldest stars of the Galaxy, and the determination of their chemical abundance patterns. These stars are important tools for studying, e.g., the formation and chemical evolution of the Galaxy, the properties (e.g., mass, rotation) of the first generation of massive stars which exploded as type II supernovae and nucleosynthesis processes that occurred in them.

 

http://www.lsw.uni-heidelberg.de/projects/galactic_archaeology/index.phtml


Extragalactic Astrophysics & High Energy Astrophysics Group at the LSW

Image of bright outflow of matter from the center of the radio galaxy Messier 87

Head: apl. Prof. Dr. Stefan Wagner

 

This group consists actually of two sub-groups. One focuses on extragalactic astrophysics, including topics such as multifrequency studies of Blazars, Emission lines of AGN, Hot spots in radio galaxies, high-redshift quasars, structure of spiral galaxies and morphological evolution of galaxies in clusters. The other group focuses on Very-High Energy Gamma-Ray Astrophysics, in the context of the H.E.S.S. collaboration. The H.E.S.S. is a Cherenkov Telescope system for the investigation of cosmic gamma rays in the 100 GeV energy range.

 

http://www.lsw.uni-heidelberg.de/projects/extragalactic/
http://www.lsw.uni-heidelberg.de/projects/hess/hess.phtml


AGN Group at the LSW

Image of the Large Binocular Telescope

Head: apl. Prof. Dr. Jochen Heidt

 

This group focuses on host galaxies and cluster environment of BL Lac objects and QSOs; Identification of optically selected BL Lac objects via polarimetry; Radiation processes in radio-loud AGN ( Polarimetric monitoring at San Pedro Martir); Black holes; Galaxy evolution (particular at high-z), deep fields (the FORS Deep Field). In addition this group is involved in Near-infrared instrumentation.

 

http://www.lsw.uni-heidelberg.de/users/jheidt/group/group.html



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