Formation and Evolution of Galaxies

Galaxies have progressively formed through a complex combination of gas accretion, star formation, and merging with other galactic units. The Formation and Evolution of Galaxies research line aims to unveil the physical mechanisms responsible for the most significant transformations in these objects. The team that makes up the research line is strongly involved in the development of forefront instrumentation (FRIDA, GTCAO, HARMONI, WEAVE) and has an important role in the scientific exploitation and development of international projects (SDSS, EUCLID, LSST, WEAVE).

Specific goals 2020 - 2023:

  • Identify the sources that reionized the universe one billion years after the Big Bang. Detect and study the first galaxies and quasars. Advance in our understanding of the nature and reality of dark matter. Investigate the low surface brightness universe to test dark matter predictions and galaxy formation theories.
  • Study the physics of active galactic nuclei and supernovae feedback and their connection with galaxy evolution from the observational and theoretical point of view. Explore the multiwavelength nature of feedback and investigate its impact on the host galaxies using data from GTC/EMIR & FRIDA and ALMA. Run the largest hydrodynamical cosmological simulations to date by developing star formation and feedback prescriptions that are designed to work at low resolution.
  • Study the physics of star formation and the conditions of the interstellar medium over the history of the Universe and under different physical conditions. Survey the star formation history, and the structural, kinematic and chemical properties of the various components of nearby galaxies to probe models of galaxy formation and evolution in a cosmological context. Get ready for resolved stellar population studies beyond what currently possible, exploiting future instruments on ELTs, JWST and other major facilities.
  • Explore different gas accretion mechanisms necessary for galaxies to keep forming stars. Image from the first time Intergalactic Medium gas flows funnelling gas into local galaxies using GTC/MEGARA and WHT/WEAVE. Investigate the role of major/minor mergers and secular processes in galaxy evolution.
  • Exploit unsupervised artificial intelligence to go beyond state-of-the-art data analysis techniques and get ready for big-data spectro-photometric surveys such as LSST, EUCLID, J-PAS and WFIRST.
  • Improve the link between observations and theory by extracting and interpreting information from simulations of galaxies in a cosmological context spanning most of the Universe's life.

For previous specific goals visit: 2016-2019 IAC-SO website

Research Lines Scientific Representative of the Severo Ochoa Programme at the IAC
Research Lines Scientific Representative of the Severo Ochoa Programme at the IAC

 The nuclei of galaxies:

  • Review paper on active galactic nuclei (AGN) obscuration in galaxies (Ramos-Almeida & Ricci 2017, Nature Astronomy) and first detection, using the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA), of the dusty torus around an AGN (García-Burillo et al. 2016, ApJ Letters).
  • M87 jet showed a core energy output 2-3 orders of magnitude more powerful than previously found (Prieto et al. 2016).
  • Discovery of massive star formation quenching induced by non-thermal effects in the nucleus of the highly star-forming galaxy NGC1097 (Tabatabaei et al. 2018, Nature Astronomy).
  • Images obtained with the infrared camera CIRCE installed in the GTC allow us to reveal the morphology of the host galaxy of a powerful AGN. The study shows for the first time that the host galaxy of one of these active "Narrow Line Seyfert 1" galactic nuclei is an elliptical galaxy (D'Ammando et al. 2017 MNRAS Letters).

Local/Nearby Universe:

  • The "ISLAndS" project, which obtained 111 orbits with the Hubble Space Telescope to study a sample of spherical galaxies of M31, has made it possible to obtain the star formation history of these galaxies with a temporal resolution of ~ 1 Gigayear at old ages (Monelli et al. 2016; Skillman et al. 2017).
  • A scientific team led by the IAC found a precise way to measure the rate of star formation in galaxies using the range of radio frequencies between 1 and 10 GHz (Tabatabaei et al. 2017, ApJ).
  • Measured the orbital motions of practically all dwarf galaxy satellites around the Milky Way (Fritz et al. 2018) and search for new satellites of the Large Magellanic Cloud (Fritz et al. 2019).
  • Uncovering the birth of the Milky Way through accurate stellar ages with Gaia data (Gallart et al. 2019, Nature Astronomy).
  • 3D spectroscopy international collaborations (e.g. CALIFA, MaNGA, MUSE) described the stellar kinematics (Falcón-Barroso et al. 2017) and the relationship between star formation rate and gas-phase metallicity of nearby galaxies (Menguiano et al. 2018, 2019).
  • Showed the relic nature of the compact galaxy NGC1277 based on the color distribution of its globular clusters (Beasley et al. 2016, Nature).
  • Two new methods have been developed based on the properties of the RR Lyrae variable stars to used them as probes of the first star formation events in galaxies and to study the early formation history of the Milky Way stellar halos (Martínez-Vázquez et al., 2016; Fiorentino et al. 2017).
  • Deep spectroscopic observations of the galaxy group Abell 2151, made with AF2/WYFFOS at the WHT, allowed the identification of 360 galaxy members of the cluster (Agulli et al. 2017 MNRAS).
  • New stellar population models based on empirical stellar libraries have been published covering the wavelength range from 0.16 to 50 microns (Vazdekis et al., 2016). 

Distant Universe:

  • Observed with ALMA interstellar dust in one of the most distant galaxies known (Laporte et al. 2017, ApJ Letters).
  • Discovery of a very large molecular cold gas disk in a galaxy of a proto-cluster at z~2 (Dannerbauer et al. 2017).
  • Detection with ALMA of starburst galaxies at z~4 (Oteo et al. 2016, 2018).
  • Micro-lensing studies concluded that gravitational waves detected by the LIGO experiment came from black holes generated in the collapse of stars and not in primordial black holes in the early universe (Mediavilla et al. 2017, ApJ Letters).
  • An international team led by IAC researchers has discovered one of the brightest distant non-active galaxies so far known. The discovery of BG1429+1202, 11.4 billion light-years away, has been possible thanks to the effect of gravitational lens produced by a massive elliptical galaxy in the line of sight to the object (Marques-Chaves et al. 2017 ApJL).
  • A statistical correlation has been found between the size of the spiral galaxies' bulb and the number of "tidal dwarf" satellite galaxies, remnants of the interaction between host galaxies (López-Corredoira & Kroupa 2016, ApJ).
  • An international scientific team in which the IAC participates has discovered that the largest galaxies in the universe are developing in cosmic clouds of cold gas (Emonts et al. 2016, Science). 

Faint and Dark Universe:

  • Obtained with GTC the deepest image of a galaxy from the ground (Trujillo & Fliri 2016, ApJ). The image is ten times deeper than any other made with ground-based telescopes and allowed the detection of the faint stellar halo, which supports the presently accepted model of galaxy formation.
  • Photometric and spectroscopic characterization of the stellar and dark matter content of Ultra-Diffuse Galaxies (Di Cintio et al. 2017; Beasley et al. 2016; Trujillo et al. 2019; Ruíz-Lara et al. 2018).
  • A new Einstein ring discovered and its physical properties analysed with the OSIRIS spectrograph at GTC (Bettinelli et al. 2016, MNRAS Letters).  
  • IAC scientists have participated in the study of a "tadpole" galaxy observed with the Hubble Space Telescope, whose results reveal how cosmic gas triggers the birth of stars in galaxies. This process, which is very difficult to observe, would thus explain the formation of galaxies like the Milky Way (Elmegreen et al. 2016, ApJ).

Simulating the Universe:

  • The EAGLE state-of-the-art cosmological simulation released (McAlpine et al. 2016) and APOSTLE simulating the surroundings of a typical Milky Way galaxy (Sawala et al. 2016) offer a solution to the mysterious missing satellite problem.
  • An algorithm developed by the IAC researcher Sebastian Hidalgo to analyze data on star formation in the Universe has been selected to run in the global computing event "Global Azure Bootcamp 2017".

Previous results (2012 - 2015)

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