The research conducted by our group concentrates on understanding the dark side of galaxies, with a particular focus on the dusty interstellar medium in galaxies. We use a combination of numerical simulations and astrophysical observations, and are involved in the definition of instruments for various forthcoming telescopes.

Far-infrared and submm observations of galaxies

The far-infrared and submm window allows a direct study of the dusty interstellar medium in galaxies. Our group is/was deeply involved in several observational projects with the Herschel Space Observatory on dust in both nearby and distant galaxies. UGent astronomers are leading the HELGA project on Andromeda, and the HEROES and FRIEDL projects on edge-on spirals and dust-lane ellipticals respectively. We are actively involved in several Herschel key programmes including the Very Nearby Galaxies Survey, the Herschel ATLAS, the Herschel Reference Survey, and the HeViCS survey of the Virgo Cluster.

DustPedia: a definitive study of cosmic dust in the Local Universe

DustPedia is a FP7 project funded by the EU under the heading ‘Exploitation of space science and exploration data’. It is a collaboration of six European institutes with a primary goal of exploiting existing Herschel and Planck data on nearby galaxies. We are combining these far-infrared and submm data with ancillary data across the electromagnetic spectrum, and are using state-of-the-art modelling tools to interpret this extensive multi-wavelength data set. The UGent team is responsible for the Herschel PACS data reduction and the radiative transfer modelling of the DustPedia galaxies.

SKIRT: 3D Monte Carlo radiative transfer

SKIRT is a state-of-the-art Monte Carlo code for simulating continuum radiation transfer in dusty astrophysical systems. The code features a wealth of built-in geometries, light source spectra, dust characterizations, dust grids, and detectors, in addition to various mechanisms for importing models generated by hydrodynamical simulations. The code is publicly available, and is being used by both our team and external users on a variety of applications. We are also involved in the development of new Monte Carlo techniques, and in the TRUST radiative transfer benchmarking effort.

Synthetic data from cosmological hydrodynamical simulations

An important application of SKIRT is the calculation of synthetic multi-wavelength images, SEDs and data cubes for galaxies from hydrodynamical simulations, in which the important effects of dust attenuation and emission are properly accounted for. In particular, SKIRT is extensively used for galaxies from the EAGLE cosmological simulation. EAGLE models the formation of structures in a 100 Mpc³ cosmological volume, large enough to contain 10,000 galaxies of the size of the Milky Way or bigger. With nearly 7 billion particles, it is one of the largest cosmological hydrodynamical simulations ever.

Research

Instrumentation for ground-based and space telescopes

Our team is involved in the development of new instruments for several forthcoming telescopes (mainly at the level of the science team). Given our scientific expertise, we are mainly involved in infrared instruments, such as MIRI (the mid-infrared instrument on the forthcoming JWST), METIS (the mid-infrared instrument for the European ELT), and SPICA (a far-infrared mission proposed to ESA/JAXA). The team is also involved in the preparation of the science program for the next generation X-ray mission Athena, and the dark energy mission Euclid.