Thesis Topic: Exploring the physics of cosmic dust by Monte Carlo simulations


Thesis Supervisors: Ralf Siebenmorgen and Mario van den Ancker


During their travel through the cosmos from stars to us, photons are scattered, polarised, absorbed, and re-emitted by dust particles. Dust surrounds various astrophyiscal objects such as young stellar objects, proto-planetary or debris disks, supernovae, starburst galaxies, active galactic nuclei, and gamma ray bursts. Dust is an important component in the general field of interstellar and extra-galactic medium, the full characterisation of which is of crucial importance to understand various fundamental astrophysical processes.

Recent advances in computer technology enables the use of efficient Monte Carlo techniques that are parallelized on GPU or CPUs to study the flight path of photons in arbitrary three-dimensional dusty media. Our code tMCpol includes treatment of polarised and unpolarised light, scattering and emission of large grains and quantum heated nanoparticles (PAHs). It outputs the radiation from X-rays to mm wavelengths and produces high resolution images. The present step in the continued development of tMCpol is to include time dependency.

The goal of this PhD project is to study and explore the physics of the dust applying tMCpol and confront model predictions with observations.  This is a timely project to support understanding of new data obtained with our modern instrumentation that are available at the VLT, ALMA, or to simulate new science cases for METIS at ESO's Extremely Large Telescope (ELT).  The detailed goal of the PhD project will be tailored to the interest of the candidate. Proposed is for example the study of polarised light curves of type Ia Supernovae to test predictions for the dark energy versus dark dust paradigm or to study the evolution and growth of particles in proto-planetary discs that ultimately form planets by use of sub-mm wave (ALMA) and near-IR (VLT/SPHERE) polarisation.

Key competences that will be learned during the PhD project include performing advanced numerical simulations, reducing and analyzing datasets from state-of-the-art optical and radio telescopes, scientific analysis, writing scientific papers and writing observing proposals. ESO also offers a wide range of trainings for PhD students on areas ranging from German language courses to scientific writing and presentation skills.

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