At the forefront of space research

Durham’s space scientists are helping to build the European Extremely Larg

Durham’s space scientists are helping to build the European Extremely Large Telescope. Credit: ESO

We’re at the forefront of research that is furthering our understanding of the universe and the exploration of space.

Durham’s research spans from black holes to dark matter, planet formation to galaxy evolution and the Cosmic Web that binds the universe together. We also work on building some the biggest and best new telescopes.

Our astronomers and cosmologists observe and simulate the universe as we seek to unravel its mysteries.

Red or blue quasars?

Did you know that the colour of quasars could tell us more about these galactic giants and how their host galaxies evolve?

Quasars consist of a supermassive black hole at the centre of galaxies surrounded by a disc of matter that is so bright it outshines the entire galaxy

They can be either blue or red, with scientists believing their colour depends on the angle of our line-of-sight.

However, we’ve shown that red quasars are likely to be the result of a brief, but violent phase in galaxy evolution when black holes eject large amounts of energy into the surrounding dust and gas.

We’re continuing this work that could tell us more about galaxy evolution, as such massive bursts of energy from the black hole would burn off the gas needed to form stars.

Cosmic Web

We’ve also observed huge threads of gas connecting multiple galaxies across three million light years - the first time the so-called Cosmic Web has been seen in such detail on large scales.

Astronomers previously detected the threadlike structure of this web in the large-scale distribution of galaxies and found hints that gas is arranged in a similar way.

Our research found that the threads contained a significant reservoir of gas that helped fuel the continued growth of galaxies.

This gives scientists a way to map this web directly and to understand its role in regulating the formation of supermassive black holes and galaxies.

New telescope technology

And we’re working on a number of new telescopes that will help researchers across the world to discover more about our amazing universe.

Our expertise is helping to develop major ground and space-based telescopes like The European-Extremely Large Telescope and The James Webb Space Telescope.

Durham is involved in work to see if lightweight mirrors for space telescopes can be 3D printed to reduce weight and volume limits.

We’ve also developed the optics for the NOMAD spectrometer for the ExoMars Trace Gas mission which is already delivering science data from Mars.

  • Our research into black holes and dark matter will be the subject of our Knowledge Across Borders webinar: Black Holes, Galaxies and the Evolution of the Universe on Tuesday 18 May.

research into red quasars. Astronomy and Astrophysics PhD candidate Vicky Fawcett tells us more about her work in this area and how her research gave her the chance to visit India.

  • Learn more about the Cosmic Web and the work of our Institute for Computational Cosmology.
  • See how 3D printed mirrors could be used in space , learn more about the NOMAD spectrometer for the ExoMars Trace Gas mission , and discover the work of our Centre for Advanced Instrumentation.
  • Want to study Physics at Durham? See our undergraduate and postgraduate courses.

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