Defining the Life-Cycle of Dwarf Galaxy Evolution: the Local Universe as a Template


The origin and evolution of galaxies through-out the Universe remains a key unanswered question in astrophysics. The galaxies we see within the Local Group are valuable representatives that have been evolving for the majority of cosmic time. As our nearest neighbours they can be studied in far more detail than their distant counterparts, and hence provide our best hope for understanding the fundamental precepts of the formation and evolution of all galaxies. Dwarf galaxies in particular have significant cosmological relevance, as they are the most diffuse galaxies in the Universe and thus presumably the most sensitive to the internal physical processes which occur in all galaxies. This means that the evolutionary changes are likely to be highly visible and have a lasting impact on these small systems.

The Local Universe provides us with a unique opportunity to study and model the detailed properties of a range of galaxy types, star by star. Accurate, large area, spatial, kinematical and chemical surveys of nearby stellar systems combined with detailed modelling will provide us with the essential links to understanding galaxy formation and evolution through-out the Universe.

To this aim, we have put together a team that combines complementary expertise (spectroscopic, photometric and theoretical) to attack this problem in the most comprehensive possible way. Our primary goal is to determine if there is an evolutionary link between early (dwarf spheroidal and elliptical) and late (irregular and blue compact) type dwarf galaxies. We plan to achieve our goal by comparing detailed abundance determinations and star formation histories with detailed chemo-dynamical evolution models. Through these comparisons, we also plan to quantify the effect of galactic scale winds on the evolution of these small systems, and to determine the conditions under which a starburst can occur and lead to runaway star formation.




First Meeting: 7-11 Dec 2009