Frontiers of the Universe: Making Sense of the Universe at Leiden Observatory

Research at Leiden Observatory spans the entire width of modern astrophysical enquiry. It is based on observation, theory, simulation, and experiment. Two broad clusters characterize the ongoing research. Within each theme, researchers carry out their personal and specialized research programme. The two clusters are: Galaxies, the structures in which they are embedded, Exoplanets, and the formation of stars and planets.

Galaxies and the structures in which they are embedded: Researchers at Leiden Observatory study the fundamental physics – the basic properties, materials and forces that create structure in the Universe. Which processes collect matter into galaxies and gas into stars? With the use of powerful telescopes advanced calculations, and computer simulations, astronomers seek to understand the origin, structure and evolution of galaxies in general and the Milky Way in particular. Through these structures, they try to uncover the unknown physics of dark matter and dark energy that takes up 95% of the Universe.

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Exoplanets and the formation of stars and planets: At Leiden Observatory, researchers investigate the origin of stars and their planetary systems. They detect and characterize planets around other stars (exoplanets) and study how stars and planets form, for instance, by following molecules from interstellar clouds to nascent planetary systems. In this way, they address questions about the origin of life and the possibilities of life existing on planets other than Earth. In other words, is Earth unique?

In the last five years Leiden Observatory hosts nine ERC researchers (list below), these researchers make big contributions to the clusters above.

ERC Reinout van Weeren, Unravelling the pysics of particle acceleration and feedback in galaxy clusters and the cosmic web (2018)
ERC Serena Viti, Molecules as Probes of the Physics of External galaxies (2019)
ERC Joe Hennawi, Quasars in a Neutral Universe: Chronicling the History of Reionization, Enrichment, and Black Hole Growth (2020)
ERC Elena Maria Rossi, Probing our Galaxy from the Center to the outskirts (2020)
ERC Ewine van Dishoeck, Linking chemistry and physics in the planet-forming zones of disks (2021)
ERC Aline Vidotto, The influence of stellar outflows on exoplanetary mass loss (2021)
ERC Henk Hoekstra, Observational Cosmology Using Large Imaging Surveys (2022)
ERC Jackie Hodge, A new View of Young galaxies with ALMA and JWST (2023)
ERC Yamila Miguel, Next-Generation of Interior models of (Exo)planets (2023)

These researchers showcase the diversity of frontier research, the diversity of research infrastructures (from space telescopes to radioastronomy) and the diversity of researchers’ careers (from starting to advance ERC grants) and backgrounds.