Mapping the Magellanic periphery

This project aims to exploit recent major advances in astronomical instrumentation to map the extreme outskirts of the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds (LMC and SMC) in unprecedented detail. The LMC and SMC are the most massive satellites of the Milky Way and the nearest example of interacting galaxies. Remarkably, despite the central importance of the Magellanic system to astronomical research, fundamental mysteries remain — Have the LMC and SMC always been our neighbours? What are their true extents on the sky? And how strongly have gravitational interactions between each other, and with the Milky Way, influenced their evolution?

The extreme fringes of the Magellanic Clouds hold the key to answering these questions. Because this peripheral region is strongly sensitive to episodes of tidal stress, its structure and kinematics encode critical information about the orbits and interaction histories of the LMC and SMC. However, this region is also extremely faint, and accurately measuring its properties is a challenging experimental problem that has only recently become tractable. Astronomers at RSAA are pioneering the study of the outskirts of the LMC and SMC using the state-of-the-art Dark Energy Camera in Chile, the AAOmega spectrograph on the AAT at Siding Spring Observatory in NSW, and the European Space Agency’s Gaia spacecraft. We are looking for ambitious students to join the project — depending on your skills and interests you will (i) use imaging from the Dark Energy Camera to search for and characterise structural distortions in the Magellanic periphery, and/or (ii) use spectroscopy from AAOmega combined with proper motion measurements from Gaia to explore the three-dimensional kinematics of this region, and/or (iii) conduct computer simulations utilising these powerful new observational constraints to model the orbits and interaction histories of the Clouds.