Supervisor: Dr. Mark Norris
Massive, extremely dense Ultracompact Dwarfs (UCDs) and Globular Clusters (GCs) are amongst the oldest surviving gravitationally bound stellar systems. As such they provide powerful insights into the earliest periods of the formation and evolution of galaxies. Our work has demonstrated that UCDs are a composite population comprised of the most massive star clusters formed during major galaxy mergers as well as a population of former galaxy nuclei which were released when their original galaxies were destroyed during minor galaxy mergers. Hence these objects can provide insights into assembly history of galaxies.
Several potential projects related to the study of these interesting objects include:
- Searches for supermassive black holes in the centres of those UCDs thought to be stripped galaxy nuclei (see e.g. https://arxiv.org/abs/1409.4769).
- Examination of the stellar populations of compact stellar systems to see if they share unusual chemical abundance variations only seen in Milky Way globular clusters. This provides a probe of the formation and evolution of stars in the most extreme environments.
- The combination of dynamical and stellar population information to use UCDs as definitive probes of the existence of a variation in the Initial Mass Function of stars from galaxy to galaxy.
These (and other) projects will use the worlds largest optical/IR telescopes (e.g. SALT/LBT/Keck/VLT/Gemini) to provide an unprecedented view of these extreme objects.