Galactic weather: Solar system encounters with dense gas clouds

Supervisor: João Alves in collaboration with Stefan Meingast (Dept. of Astrophysics), Catherine Zucker and Alyssa Goodman, (Dept. Astronomy, Harvard University)

Funding Situation: potentially via a VISESS PhD fellowship

Project outline: Several studies over the past 40 years have suggested that there is a causal connection between the Sun’s crossing of spiral arms and giant molecular clouds and terrestrial mass extinctions or climate change, although this remains a controversial topic. This project will take the first solid steps in this new field, looking in particular for the interaction of the Solar System with the Radcliffe Wave and local massive star-forming regions, over the last 100 Myr. To achieve this, the PhD student will work with data from the ESA Gaia mission and the ESO VISIONS Public Survey, led by our group ( and will be part of a young, exploration-driven, and supportive group. The PhD candidate will become a crucial member of an ongoing collaboration with Harvard University.

This PhD project, connected with the projects “The 3D space motion of the local Interstellar Medium” and “A paradigm change in the making: the origin and evolution of the Radcliffe Wave”, seizes this opportunity and addresses the following general questions: 

  • What is the origin and motion of Galactic-scale gas structures such as the Radcliffe Wave? 
  • How do star-forming regions form and disperse inside them?
  • Has the Solar System interacted with the Radcliffe Wave?

We are looking for an enthusiastic candidate with a good background in Physics and Math, and with good coding skills.