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Stars and the interstellar medium

This branch of astrophysics principally concerns the study of objects belonging to our galaxy, the Milky Way. There are also various international projects studying the interstellar medium and stellar populations in external galaxies, particularly nearby spiral galaxies and young dwarf galaxies.

The galaxies, enormous collections of stars and gigantic clouds of gas and dust, can be though of as the "building blocks" of the Universe, of which the Universe contains many billions. Each galaxy might be considered a miniature Universe in itself: a self-gravitating system that generally evolves separately from the other galaxies, even though nearby galaxies often interact, getting deformed by their reciprocal gravitational attraction, or even colliding and giving rise to very violent phenomena.

Our galaxy contains about 100 billion stars and the Solar System belongs to one of its spiral arms, where the youngest stars are found, with ages from a few tens of millions of years to a few billion years. The spiral arms do not contain only stars but also gas and dust. The Sun is located in the outskirts of the Milky Way at about 28 thousand light years from the centre, about which it takes approximately 250 million years to complete an orbit. Together with the Large Magellanic Cloud, the Andromeda galaxy and more than 50 other smaller galaxies, the Milky Way makes up the so-called Local Group, a mini cluster of galaxies.

The study of stellar evolution, and how this interacts with the interstellar medium, allows us to understand how the Milky Way formed, and learn something of how other galaxies formed. In particular, this field is turning out to be decisive for the discovery and characterisation of planetary systems other than our own, able to host planets similar to Earth.

The study of the stars is fundamental to the understanding of the Universe in which we live, in which Italian researchers have distinguished themselves in recent years. In fact, an article in this field, by a team of Italian and INAF researchers, published in 2008 in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics, was nominated as a "New Hot Paper" by the Thomson Reuters agency, that is, one of the most cited papers worldwide in the space science category. This acknowledgement is testimony to the scientific importance of the work, that resulted in the creation of a large archive of theoretical simulation data for stellar evolution studies, consultable on-line, and already used in the studies of tens of astrophysicists all over the world.

In this field various lines of research have been developed in which Italian groups have established a great deal of visibility and international leadership, accompanied by a significant success rate in obtaining time on the largest and most prestigious telescopes, both on the ground and in space.

K2-3: A system of three likely sub-Neptunes

Mar 22, 2018

K2-3: A system of three likely sub-Neptunes A team led by astronomers from INAF presented a new study aimed at determining accurate masses for the three planets in orbit aroud the M-dwarf star K2-3

INAF hosts the preliminary round to set up the Cherenkov Telescope Array Observatory-ERIC

Feb 14, 2018

INAF hosts the preliminary round to set up  the Cherenkov Telescope Array Observatory-ERIC At Headquarters of the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics INAF, the kick-off round of the multilateral negotiations to establish an ERIC organization to the manage the Cherenkov Telescope Array project as part of the EU’s ESFRI infrastructure roadmap had take place

Extrasolar planets: Italy to lead the construction of the SHARK instruments on the LBT

Jan 24, 2018

Extrasolar planets: Italy to lead the construction of the SHARK instruments on the LBT The Italian institutes involved in the construction of SHARK are the INAF Observatories of Padua and Rome, responsible for the two channels, together with the Observatories of Arcetri, Milan and Trieste and the Department of Physics and Astronomy of the University of Padua