The Elephant in the Astrophysical Room

My name is Alvina On and I am a final-year PhD student in the Theoretical Astrophysics group in MSSL. In this post, I will blog about my experience in the XXV Winter School of Astrophysics on Cosmic Magnetic Fields.

Our group photo during week 1 (Photo credit: taken by the organisers of the IAC winter school)

Our group photo during week 1 (Photo credit: taken by the organisers of the IAC winter school)

Magnetic fields are ubiquitous in the Universe. While intensive studies on stellar and galactic magnetism have been carried out, the properties of magnetism beyond the cluster scale is still relatively unknown. The cosmic web and voids are believed to be permeated by magnetic fields which are weak and difficult to be observed. Such difficulty leads to many open questions on this subject of magnetic fields, hence being dubbed by the winter school as “the elephant in the astrophysical room”. To this end, the school aims to unify the views of experts and researchers on magnetic fields across all scales in the Universe.

A panoramic view of El Teide Observatory, with some of the telescopes in the background. We visited GREGOR and THEMIS.

A panoramic view of El Teide Observatory, with some of the telescopes in the background. We visited GREGOR and THEMIS.

The two-week winter school took place in Tenerife last November and was organised by the Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias (IAC). There were about twenty students from all around the world who were selected to attend the school; David Barnes (also a PhD student from MSSL) and I were the only ones from the UK. In the first week, we participated in lectures on cosmic magnetic field essentials by Fausto Cattaneo, the Sun by Phil Judge and the stars by Oleg Kochukhov. We then moved on to lectures on larger-scale fields in the second week, in which the lectures focused upon the role of AGN feedback on magnetism by Rony Keppens, galactic magnetism by Rainer Beck, cluster magnetic fields by Klaus Dolag and primordial fields by Fabio Finelli. We also had the opportunity to visit the IAC headquarters in La Laguna, the Teide Observatory in Tenerife and the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory in La Palma.

The view taken from the top of Roque de los Muchachos Observatory in La Palma. We also visited the GTC (on the far left) and the WHT (in the middle).

The view taken from the top of Roque de los Muchachos Observatory in La Palma. We also visited the GTC (on the far left) and the WHT (in the middle).

Apart from having our posters up, David and I each gave a 10-minute oral presentation on our research during the last day of the school. David presented his results from GCMHD+, which is the N-body smoothed particle magnetohydrodynamic  cosmological code developed in-house by our group here at MSSL. I highlighted the results of my recent research on how the fluctuations of rotation measure and X-ray flux of galaxy clusters evolve throughout their lifetimes.

Overall, I really enjoyed the lectures delivered by international scientists whom are experts in their fields and the interactions I had with fellow researchers. The winter school was an amazing experience!

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