Nature of astronomical research

Astronomy is a unique discipline which combines top science, cutting-edge technology and education, and inspires and excites the general public. Thanks to powerful new telescopes and instruments, many new discoveries have been made in recent years. Constraints on the nature of the mysterious dark energy and dark matter, which comprise 95% of the Universe, are being made. Light from the earliest galaxies emitted when the Universe was only 3% of its current age demonstrates even more vigorous star formation than expected at that early stage. 

An all-sky view of stars in the Milky Way and neighbouring galaxies. Credits: ESA/Gaia/DPAC.

Large scale computer simulations provide increasingly realistic insight into the physical processes that shape galaxies. Mergers of dying stars are at the origin of the most powerful explosions in the Universe, whereas the origin and composition of cosmic ray particles produced in some of these explosions is being unraveled. The formation history of our Milky Way and neighboring galaxies is being revealed through detailed studies of the motions and elemental abundances of individual stars. Within our Galaxy, more than 3000 exoplanets have now been found, the majority of which have masses between those of Earth and Neptune, surprisingly different from our Solar System planets. New facilities allow astronomers to zoom in on the construction sites of new stars and planets, where increasingly complex organic molecules, the precursors of life, are found.

The NOVA research program:  The life-cycle of stars and galaxies

The research program carried out by NOVA ‘The lifecycle of stars and galaxies: from high-redshift to the present’ is organized along the following three interconnected thematic programs (also called ‘networks’):

Each network consists of 15-20 active staff researchers with strong scientific records. The networks have regular (two to three times per year) face-to-face meetings with scientific presentations, mostly by PhD students and postdocs. Subgroups of researchers from different universities focusing on more specialized topics also meet regularly.

Network 1

Formation and evolution of galaxies: from high redshift to the present

Network 2

Formation and evolution of stars and planetary systems

Network 3

Astrophysics in extreme conditions

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Amina Helmi

"By 2025, with ESA’s Gaia mission and new ground-based followup instruments, we will have a completely new view of our home galaxy, the Milky Way. We will have etermined its origin by finding and characterizing its building blocks, in some sense this is like
reconstructing its genealogy tree. These data will also allow us to map the distribution of mass in the Milky Way and pin down the nature of the mysterious dark matter."


Ignas Snellen

“The new Extremely Large Telescope will make it possible to find and characterize planets like Earth orbiting our neighboring stars for the first time. What we will find? No idea! That is the thrill of scientific exploration.”

Anna Watts

Anna Watts

“The cores of neutron stars reach densities far higher than anything we can achieve on Earth, conditions where we expect to form exotica including stable states of strange quark matter and quantum superfluids. Over the next 10 years neutron star astronomers will begin to make profound discoveries about the nature of dense matter, in regimes that cannot be reached by laboratories like CERN.”