From Cosmic Large-Scale Structure to Galaxies, Stars and Planets

Galaxies are the fundamental cosmic building blocks that link large-scale structure formation to the origin of chemical elements, stars, planets and eventually life. Despite their bewildering variety and complexity, galaxies show important correlations between their properties which inform theories about their origin.

Deciphering the history of the Milky Way
With modern integral field, ground-based and satellite observations, and new generations of numerical simulations, the cosmic flow of galaxies and their morphological changes and chemical enrichment can be studied. The new data from the Gaia satellite, which determines 3-dimensional positions for 1 billion stars in the Milky Way, provides an especially timely opportunity to unravel the formation history of our own Galaxy, thereby opening up the era of galactic archaeology.

On its way towards stars and planets, gas falling in from the cosmic web becomes part of a highly irregular, turbulent interstellar medium. Modern infrared observations allow a tracing of its complex, multiphase structure down to sub-parsec scales, and an identification of the conditions that lead to star formation and planet-forming disks. The study of the structure of these disks can help to understand the diversity of planetary systems and the conditions leading to habitability.

Questions explored by research area D include:

  • How did galaxy structure evolve and how is the visible Universe connected to the dark?
  • Is our Milky Way special?
  • How do stars form and how were galaxies enriched with heavy elements?
  • Which conditions lead to the formation of our Solar System or habitable systems in general?