/Liverpool’s Sky At Night … Alberto Acuto

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Date: 15th March 2019

Liverpool’s Sky At Night … Alberto Acuto

In our newest 'Liverpool's Sky At Night' edition, we caught up with Alberto Acuto from LJMU's Astrophysics Research Institute. The ARI are based out of iC2 and are setting the pace of astrophysics research globally. Their research interests are as varied as they are, and so we are delighted to introduced the human faces behind the science.

Alberto Acuto is an Italian citizen in the UK. He began studying Astronomy and Astrophysics in the oldest university of the western-world, Bologna if you’re wondering. He joined the LJMU Astrophysics research institute as PhD in the Liv.DAT cohort. The Liv.DAT is a joint project between the LJMU and University of Liverpool combining physical sciences and big data science.

I am currently a PhD student at the Astrophysics Research Institute at Liverpool John Moores University as a part of the High-Performing Computing (HPC) group, in particular in the Cosmology group. In this research group, we use numerical simulations to recreate how the Universe looks like and what are the contributions of the various phenomena into the shaping and the characterizing of the galaxies and the groups of galaxies. Cosmology is an important field in Astrophysics that studies why we find galaxies gathered in big clusters, why we see a particular evolution and growth of them and how the Universe itself changed and evolved from its beginning (the well known “Big Bang”) to today.

Mock image of Sunyaev-Zel’Dovich emission of free gas in clusters and groups of galaxies obtained from a DM-only BAHAMAS lightcone.

To study the Universe itself we need several ingredients: firstly, we need high-quality data from observations that can be done on Earth with amazing telescopes in, even more, amazing places (like the Canary islands where the Liverpool Telescope is based, or, more cosmology related, like the Atacama desert in Chile) or in space with some jewels of technology like Hubble Space Telescope (just one of the many that are orbiting around us). Secondly, we need to use highly-detailed simulations to reproduce the actual data and predict what will be, hopefully, found. In particular the simulations are extremely important to disentangle the various phenomena that are, at the same time, impacting the formation and evolution of the cosmic objects. For instance, the explosions of supernovae (the final stage of massive stars) can significantly impact the amount of gas present in a galaxy and gravitational interactions among galaxies can impact the shape of these.

My current research is focused on the properties of galaxy clusters in the BAHAMAS (BAryon and HAloes of MAssive Systems) simulations. The focus of BAHAMAS simulations is to represent a big chunk of the volume of the Universe and see the interplay between the dark matter component and the “luminous” one (known as baryonic matter). Thanks to theirs extremely reliable features they can be used to describe the main galaxy clusters observables that can be used to constrain some cosmological parameters (parameters that describe main features of the Universe). Galaxy clusters are the most massive objects in the Universe and they are formed by up to thousand galaxies all gravitationally bound together and they have particular features in several observational bands. We can trace the hot gas (of several hundreds of millions of degrees) that lies between the galaxies and use this gas to understand the shape and the mass of the clusters and also understand how and how fast it was created. My research will provide quick and easier way to determine how changing the cosmological setup will impact these type of observables and then compare them with real observations in order to put tighter constraints on the current assumptions. Our aim is to try to understand how we can recover real data from simulations and see if our assumptions are in line with the expected results.    

The Astrophysics Research Institute (ARI) is part of Liverpool John Moores University and based in the IC2 building at the Liverpool Science Park. Comprised of nearly seventy research staff and forty graduate students, the work of the ARI encompasses a range of observational and theoretical research: Star Formation and Stellar Populations, Time Domain Astrophysics (focussing on rapidly changing astrophysical phenomena such as supernovae), Galaxy Formation and Evolution, Astronomical Instrumentation, and Computational Cosmology.
Additionally, the ARI works with the University of Liverpool to deliver Bachelor and Master’s courses in astronomy, and also provides a range of distance learning courses. Through its operation of the world’s largest robotic telescope, the National Schools’ Observatory provides data and telescope time to schools around the UK, helping to make professional astronomy accessible to the next generation