Astrophysics at the University of Vienna
Research and teaching in astronomy and astrophysics at the University of Vienna can be traced back, in some aspects, to the second half of the 14th century. The current building of the Observatory, inaugurated in 1883, accommodates to this day Austria's largest center of research and teaching in astronomy.
The main research topics at the Department of Astrophysics are the formation and evolution of galaxies, stars, and planets. Making use of state-of-the-art telescopes operated by ESO, ESA, and NASA, as well as high performance computer centers, staff researchers are carrying out frontline scientific programs investigating the physical processes of structure formation in the Universe, from clusters of galaxies down to planetary systems. Our main research areas are:
Formation and evolution of stars and planets (Chairs: Prof. J. Alves and Prof. M. Güdel)
What is the origin of our Solar system and how unique are we? At the Observatory we investigate the initial conditions of star formation in dark molecular clouds and construct accurate models of the atmospheres and environments of young stars around which planets may form. Main research topics include the origin of the stellar mass distribution and the formation of clusters, chemical processes in protoplanetary disks, the effects of high energy radiation on stellar environments, and planetary system dynamics. The nature of stellar pulsation, stellar atmospheres as well as mass loss processes of evolved stars are further import topics investigated. These later phases of stellar evolution are crucial to the understanding of the cosmic matter circuit, which creates a natural link to our second focus of research:
Formation and evolution of galaxies (Chairs: Prof. G. Hensler and Prof. B. Ziegler)
Within the cosmological context of structure formation in the universe we explore the formation and evolution of the different types of galaxies, especially with respect to mass assembly, star formation and galactic dynamics. We particularly explore environmental effects, interactions and transformations of galaxies, and the chemical circuit of baryonic matter. Observations of galaxies at all cosmological epochs – from the early universe to the local volume around the Milky Way - deliver quantitative results on essential parameters.
Developing and operating astronomical instruments
Our institute has developed the first Austrian satellite (BRITE - Bright Target Explorer) in cooperation with the Space Flight Laboratory, Univ. Toronto, Canada. Operations of this satellite, which was launched on 25th Feb. 2013, are being coordinated by our department. The institute also participates in the development of several ground-and space-based astronomical instruments such as ESA's CoRoT, GAIA, HERSCHEL, the Canadian Space Agency's MOST, and ground based facilities such as ESO's VLT-MATISSE, 3D-NTT, and data reduction pipelines. We are also involved in the preparatory work being made for ESO's European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) as well as future missions such as EChO, EUCLID, PLATO, and SPICA.
The Observatory operates its own astronomical observing facilities in Vienna and a mountain observatory (Leopold Figl Observatory for Astrophysics) which provide the basis for research-oriented teaching as well as for public outreach.