Astrophysics & Planetary Science – Niels Bohr Institute - University of Copenhagen

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Astrophysics & Planetary Science 

The research group Astrophysics and Planetary Science spans a broad spectrum of research areas from the exploration of stars and galaxies; the formation of the solar system; our own star, the Sun; our neighbouring planet, Mars; planets around other stars, called exoplanets, as well as the development of advanced instruments for the exploration of space.

An overarching theme of the group is trying to understand whether our own solar system with the Earth and life is ‘normal’, or, to the contrary, is completely unique among the billions of solar systems in the Milky Way.

  • Exoplanets are planets surrounding other stars than our Sun. In recent years, astronomers have discovered hundreds of planets in other solar systems. The planets are not observed directly, but by using methods where you study the light from the planet’s stars and the small movements of the stars caused by the presence of the planet. Researchers are particularly interested in finding planets in the habitable zones, where Earth-like planets could in principle accommodate life.
  • The Sun is studied using advanced supercomputer simulations to try to understand phenomena such as sunspots, which are areas on the Sun with very strong magnetic fields. The Sun’s magnetic field structures are very dynamic and can explode. This releases large magnetized plasma clouds out into the solar system, which can affect communication and perhaps the climate as well.
  • Mars and the exploration of our solar system. The group has a long tradition of experimental and observational exploration of Mars through participation in NASA’s Mars missions, which are trying to unravel the role that water has played in the evolution of Mars. Danish-developed magnetism instruments are used to examine the rust-red iron minerals in the planet’s dust and soil. In addition, the group is working with projects dealing with water and ice on our neighbouring planet.
  • Stars and Galaxies research in our own galaxy, the Milky Way, studying the oldest stars and mapping the area surrounding the Sun. By studying binary star systems, you can learn more about structure of stars, their chemical composition and properties. By studying galaxy clusters in both the near and distant universe, researchers can see how the universe developed over billions of years.

Instrument Development relies on a close collaboration between astronomers, engineers and technicians. The group has extensive expertise in developing and building new advanced instruments for space exploration. For example, they have developed and built a significant part of the extremely sensitive instrument, the X-shooter, for the Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile.

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