Forming the Fuel for Star Formation

Most of the gas in a star-forming galaxy will be in the form of neutral atomic hydrogen gas. For this gas to form stars it must first cool and become dense enough to form molecules. Once a cloud of molecular gas has formed, regions within the cloud will become more dense than others and will further cool and condense until star formation begins. One of the critical, outstanding questions in star formation is how the atomic gas forms molecular gas throughout a galaxy and how that transition is affected by the properties of the galaxy. This project will focus on two nearby galaxies: the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds. The Magellanic Clouds orbit our own galaxy, the Milky Way, and are two of the nearest gas-rich, star-forming galaxies, but have conditions that are similar to what would be found in galaxies in the early universe.

We have just completed a large survey using the Australia Telescope Compact Array to study the temperature and density of the neutral atomic hydrogen gas as well as to search for molecular gas in the form of OH (hydroxide) throughout the Magellanic Clouds. For this project, you will get hands-on experience working with this brand new data and you will look to see if we detect signatures of molecular gas and how that relates to the conditions of the atomic hydrogen gas. You will gain valuable experience learning new computer software, writing your own code using Python, and developing your critical thinking skills as we work to advance our understanding of star formation and galaxy evolution. For more information about this potential research topic or activity, or to discuss any related research area, please contact the supervisor.