NWO TOP grant for Prof. Dr. Tom Oosterloo to search for the darkest galaxies

Prof. Dr. Tom Oosterloo, one of the senior astronomers at ASTRON, professor at the Kapteyn Institute Groningen and Principal Investigator of Apertif, has been awarded a prestigious TOP grant from NWO, the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research.

Published by the editorial team, 1 December 2014

The grant will allow Tom to expand his work on dwarf galaxies, for which he is one of the leading experts. The project aims at searching for the smallest and dimmest galaxies in the nearby Universe, and to understand their properties in terms of models for galaxy formation. With this grant, Tom will be able to do this search by exploiting the new and unique capabilities of Apertif, the upgraded Westerbork Synthesis Radio Telescope.

These extremely small galaxies carry unique information about the young Universe, when the very first stars and galaxies have formed. They also represent buildings blocks for larger galaxies. Therefore they play a key role in the Universe.

These small galaxies are delicate systems. Because of their small mass and, consequently, weak gravity, they are very sensitive to external conditions: small changes in these conditions may result in large changes in the properties of the resulting galaxies.

Until a few years ago, theoretical models tended to predict far too many dwarf galaxies. The predictions have now improved, assuming that the young galaxies actually manage to lose their gas. This seems to be the case for the dwarf galaxies located close to the Milky Way.

But there are major exceptions! The presence of a number of very gas-rich dwarf galaxies (some discovered and studied by Tom) still causes a headache for astronomers modelling galaxy formation!

A proper census of these dwarf galaxies existing outside the Local Universe requires observations with an instrument with a large field of view, good sensitivity and good spatial resolution. Because of this, the project is perfectly suited for Apertif.

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