McGill.CA / Science / Department of Physics


This is a fascinating time in astrophysics, with new observational capabilities offer us a more detailed view of the universe and its constituents than ever before. McGill's Astrophysics group works at the forefront of a wide variety of major astrophysical research areas, including neutron stars, pulsars, magnetars, pulsar wind nebulae, X-ray binaries, thermonuclear bursts, black holes, gamma ray bursts, active galactic nuclei, galaxy evolution, galaxy clusters, microwave background, cosmology and exoplanets.

For more information, you can check the group website. The Astrophysics and Cosmology pamphlet can be found here.

Neutron stars/Pulsars
(A. Cumming, V. Kaspi, R. Rutledge)

The existence of neutron stars was predicted in the 1930s, more than 30 years before the first discovery of radio pulses from pulsar PSR B1919+21, in 1967. In the past 40 years new telescopes, instruments and detection methods have resulted in the discovery of nearly 2000 neutron stars. They can be observed in many wavebands, notably radio, X-rays and gamma-rays and are grouped into various categories including pulsars, magnetars, radio rotating transients, X-ray dim isolated neutron stars, and neutron star X-ray binaries.

PSR J0737-3039A/B »
Artist's conception of the double radio pulsar PSR J0737-3039A/B.
Credit: McGill University, Office of Vice-Principal (Research and International Relations)
Animation by Daniel Cantin, DarwinDimensions
The McGill Neutron Star and Pulsar group studies a diverse range of subjects in observational pulsar physics, using data from many of the world's most powerful observatories and satellites, including Chandra, XMM-Newton, Swift and soon, NuSTAR. We study interesting individual systems such as double pulsars, magnetars, low mass X-ray binaries and supernova remnants, as well as the distant and enigmatic gamma-ray bursts. We are also involved in large-scale surveys to discover new pulsars using large radio telescopes, including Arecibo and the Green Bank Telescope.

The McGill Neutron Star theorists are interested in the fundamental structure of neutron stars. We investigate the origin and evolution of their spin and magnetism, their interior structure, and the properties of neutron star binary systems.


Galaxies & Cosmology
(M. Dobbs, G. Holder, T. Webb)

[Deep Field]
Deep Field »
Hubble Deep Field.
Credit: NASA, ESA, and S. Beckwith (STScI) and the HUDF Team
The Galaxies and Cosmology group at McGill includes observers, theorists and experimentalists studying the evolution of galaxies, clusters of galaxies and the cosmic microwave background in order to understand the processes by which our Universe formed and evolved.

McGill is involved in numerous CMB experiments. One of these experiments is the South Pole Telescope (SPT), which is surveying the CMB for “shadows” of galaxy clusters: the largest gravitationally bound objects in the universe. The detection and characterization of these galaxy clusters allows us to probe structure formation, cosmological parameters and the equation of state of dark energy: an enigmatic substance driving the accelerated expansion of our universe.

Our observational cosmologists use world-class telescopes such as Gemini, the Spitzer Space Telescope and the Very Large Array to look back in time and investigate the detailed physics of galaxy evolution. We are interested in the processes which build the stellar mass of galaxies, feed the supermassive black-holes at their centers, and group them into the structures and shapes we see around us today.


Experimental Astrophysics
(M. Dobbs, D. Hanna, K. Ragan)

Frequency multiplexer »
Digital frequency multiplexing board, developed at McGill for reading out large arrays of low temperature bolometric detectors.
The experimental astrophysicists at McGill contribute to the building of observational facilities to explore various energy bands in astrophysics. Our high-energy research is carried out with the VERITAS observatory in Arizona which is sensitive to gamma rays with energies from 100 GeV to over 30 TeV.

We also have an active cosmology instrumentation lab that has developed important components for cosmic microwave background detectors such as the South Pole Telescope and the balloon-borne polarimeter, EBEX. Key components of the proposed CHIME hydrogen mapping experiment will be developed at McGill.


Extrasolar Planets
(A. Cumming)

Exoplanet »
An artist's impression of a possible exoplanet.
Credit: PPARC

A tremendous number of different kinds of observations of exoplanets are now available, including statistical distributions of planet properties and orbits, the surface temperature profiles of hot jupiters, and even the obliquities of their orbits. The numbers will continue to grow over the next few years, including new samples of exoplanets such as those from direct-detection surveys. These observations offer an opportunity to answer basic questions about planet formation and the physical processes occurring in exoplanet interiors.

At McGill, we are working on two aspects of exoplanets. The first is the statistical properties of the sample of exoplanets, which have a lot to tell us about the physics of planet formation. Part of this work involves applying Bayesian techniques to the detection of planetary orbits and constraining properties of the planet population.

Second, we are engaged in a number of studies of the physics of gas giant planets, with projects including ohmic heating as a way to inflate some of the hot jupiters, the early evolution of young gas giant planets, and how we can use observations of directly-detected gas giants to constrain the formation process and their internal properties.

Nuclear Astrophysics
(A. Cumming, R. Rutledge)

[neutron star accreation]
Thermonuclear flash »
Thermonuclear flash on an accreting neutron star
Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Nuclear astrophysics is at the intersection of astrophysics and nuclear physics. It concerns the study of the origin of the chemical elements in stars and supernovae, explosive events such as supernovae, classical novae, and X-ray bursts, and the properties of matter at high densities as found in the interiors of neutron stars. Nuclear astrophysics research at McGill is focussed on developing connections between nuclear properties and astrophysical observations through the study of neutron stars.

One focus of research at McGill is modelling the transient behavior of accreting neutron stars on timescales of seconds to years. This requires knowing the properties of nuclei across the mass table, from the most proton rich radioactive nuclei to the most neutron rich. Thermonuclear flashes from unstable hydrogen and helium burning on the surface of an accreting neutron star involve the rp-process, a rapid proton capture process that produces heavy nuclei near the proton drip line. Deeper inside the neutron star crust, nuclei at and beyond neutron drip are present, and determine the transport properties of the crust that can be probed with observations of crust cooling on timescales of months to years.

Another focus is measuring the radius of neutron stars. Neutron star radius and mass measurements give powerful constraints on the properties of the bulk nuclear matter that should exist in the cores of neutron stars. At McGill, we use observations of the thermal emission from neutron stars to measure the neutron star radius and constrain the equation of state of dense matter.

McGill is an Associate Member of the Joint Institute for Nuclear Astrophysics - Centre for Evolution of the Elements (JINA/CEE).