Understanding the properties of star formation and the physics of the interestellar medium (ISM) in galaxies is key to studying their formation and evolution. While substantial progress has been made for galaxies in the local Universe (where detailed studies can be carried out with relative ease), it is unclear whether these processes extend to galaxies present in an earlier cosmic epoch. Thus to fully comprend the complexities involved with the evolution of the Universe over time, scruntiny must be directed towards the younger Universe.
The emission lines associated with the most important tracers of molecular gas in galaxies and the peak of thermal dust emission are located in the submm and radio regimes requiring specialist telescopes. Combining the signals detected by different radio antenas we can enhance the light collecting power and increase the spatial resolution of the observations beyond the limits of space-based optical telescopes, such as the Hubble Space Telescope (HST). In this manner, radio interferomety represents a powerful tool to study galaxy formation and evolution.
In its current operational state, ALMA consists of an array of 30 (this number will increase to around 60 after completion) 12 m antennas covering baselines up to 16 km. Located on the Chajnantor plateau in Chile at an altitude of 5000 m, ALMA is finding and characterising the most distant and extreme galaxies, studying the properties of the interestellar medium in local galaxies, or exploring the chemistry of the Universe.
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Launched on 14 May 2009, the Herschel Space Observatory was designed to observe a face of the Universe that had previously been hidden. Herschel observed radiation at FIR and submm wavelengths (70-500 μm), detecting dust obscured sources and cold objects that invisible to many other telescopes. Although the Herschel's observations finished on April 29 2013, the data collected will be producing revolutionary results over the next years.
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The Herschel ATLAS (H-ATLAS) is the largest Herschel open time survey. Having detected over 250,000 galaxies over 550 square degrees using the Photoconductor Array Camera and Spectrometer (PACS - 100 μm; 160 μm) and the Spectral and Photometric Imaging Receiver (SPIRE - 250 μm; 350 μm; 500 μm) instruments, it has enormously furthered our understanding of galaxy formation and evolution.
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Submm galaxies (SMGs) are the high redshift analogous to local ultraluminous infrared galaxies (ULIRGs) and are responsible for the bulk of the cosmic IR background. A percentage of SMGs are highly lensed, with amplification factors ranging 10-100×. The lensing boosts our effective sensitivity, which allows unprecedented follow-up and improved spatial resolution. This allows us to probe within SMGs on scales consistent with individual giant molecular clouds helping put constraints on theories of formation and evolution.
This project has received funding from the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme for research,
technological development and demonstration under grant agreement no. 321302.