A beam of light leaves a telescope dome at night

Observational Astrophysics

Research Activity

Astrophysics is the study of the physical nature of celestial objects and the Universe in which they live.

The Astrophysics group at Lancaster was set up in 2015 within the Physics Department, complementing the existing Astro-particle Cosmology and Space and Planetary Physics groups.

The group's research is primarily observational and tackles some of the most important open questions in Astrophysics, broadly centred around understanding the formation and evolution of galaxies and the properties of the Universe itself. The group's research on galaxies includes detailed measurement of the stellar populations within relatively nearby galaxies and star clusters ("galactic archaeology") through to searches for the most distant galaxies observable. Through these studies, we can probe the earliest systems that formed in the Universe. Related research on the properties of the Universe includes measuring cosmological parameters such as the expansion rate and geometry of the Universe, and the relative fractions and properties of its constituents, including ordinary matter and the mysterious dark matter and dark energy.

This research involves making state-of-the-art observations using the world's most powerful telescopes such as the Hubble Space Telescope and the facilities of the European Southern Observatory, including ALMA and VLT. At the same time, the group is involved in the scientific planning for several new telescopes and instruments that will come online in the next 5-10 years and that will revolutionise research in astrophysics. These include the 4MOST spectrograph to be mounted on the VISTA telescope, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (an 8m diameter survey telescope), the 40m European Extremely Large Telescope and in space ESA's Euclid mission (a wide-field survey telescope for cosmology), ESA's FLARE mission, and the 6m diameter James Webb Space Telescope.

For information on the activities of some of our undergraduate and summer internship students plus the LancAstro conference series please see the XGAL website

Key research

  • galaxy formation and evolution
  • very high-redshift galaxies
  • sub-mm galaxies
  • supermassive black holes
  • reionisation of the universe
  • supernovae as cosmological probes
  • dark matter and dark energy
  • chemical abundances of stars, globular clusters and galaxies
  • scientific planning for future telescopes and instruments
  • citizen science
  • machine learning for astrophysics


You will find the Dame Kathleen Ollerenshaw Observatory on the roof of the Physics building. It is named in recognition of Dame Kathleen Ollerenshaw's support of the facility.

The observatory, comprising the telescope, dome and the adjacent laboratory, is named after Dame Kathleen Ollerenshaw who donated the original Celestron 11" telescope. She was a former Pro-Chancellor of the University, Lord Mayor of Manchester, outstanding mathematician and a keen amateur astronomer. Sir Patrick Moore opened the observatory on 20th May 2002.

The main facility of the observatory is now a pier mounted Celestron CGE1400 XLT 14" Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope. The dome was designed and built by Dr Glyn Marsh, a prominent local amateur astronomer. Situated on the roof of the Physics Department, the observatory has excellent views of most of the sky. MPhys students first used the telescope in 2001. The prime use at this stage was CCD imaging. Since then, MPhys students have carried out more quantitative investigations into sunspots, high and low-resolution spectroscopy, and calibration of the system sensitivity. The observatory is now also used by the recently formed Lancaster University Astronomical Society.

Technical Information

  • Location of the Observatory
  • Latitude 54° 0' 39" N
  • Longitude 2° 47' 03" W
Students use the telescope

Fellowship Opportunities

We encourage researchers to consider the Lancaster Observational Astrophysics group as a host for prestigious postdoctoral fellowship applications.

Below is a list of fellowship opportunities available to astrophysicists. Some of these fellowships require the host department to provide full economic costings (e.g. RS URF), match funding (e.g. Leverhulme) or pre-select a list of candidates (e.g. STFC ERF, UKRI FLF). We recommend that you contact Professor Isobel Hook cc'ing Dr John Stott as early as possible in order to ensure that your application can proceed successfully. Many of the deadlines below are based on those from previous years so please check the organisation website for the correct date.

Astrophysics Specific Fellowships

General Fellowships Available To Astrophysicists

PhD Opportunities

We encourage applications from excellent candidates wanting to pursue a PhD in Astrophysics.

Below is a list of our current PhD project opportunities. Our PhD projects are offered on a competitive basis and are subject to availability of funding. For more general information about PhD study in Physics at Lancaster, please contact our postgraduate admissions staff at py-pgadmiss@lancaster.ac.uk. You can also apply directly on our Physics Study webpage, stating the title of the project and the name of the supervisor. Once done, please also send an email to Professor Isobel Hook and Dr Brooke Simmons. For your application to be given full consideration please apply by the deadline of 23rd January 2023, letters of reference should also be received by the same deadline so please contact your letter writers in advance. Please note that you do not need to provide a research statement in the application and if you state multiple projects from the list below in your personal statement you will be considered for all of them.

If you are interested in applying for a Bell Burnell Graduate Scholarship with the Observational Astrophysics group then please email Dr Brooke Simmons by the deadline of 16th December 2022 including (1) a CV; (2) a personal statement of not more than 2 pages detailing your research experience and interests (this is identical to the personal statement required of normal applicants); (3) a statement of not more than 1 page describing how you meet the assessment criteria for the BBGSF; and (4) the contact details of up to 2 references.

Applicants are typically expected to have the equivalent of an upper second class degree (2.1) in either Physics, Astrophysics or a related discipline.

We do not generally have internal funding for international studentships, but external scholarships may be available. Prospective international students should be aware that deadlines for external scholarships are often months earlier than PhD application deadlines in the normal cycle, so advance planning and early enquiries are helpful. Resources concerning international scholarships change regularly, and we are not able to track all external opportunities for all potential candidates from all countries. However, the Study UK website may be a good starting point for many students.

We hold an Athena SWAN Silver award and JUNO Champion status and are strongly committed to fostering diversity within its community as a source of excellence, cultural enrichment, and social strength. We welcome those who would contribute to the further diversification of our department.

We occasionally accept MSc by Research students. This is dependent on the availability of a suitable supervisor. Please look at the research pages of potential supervisors in order to find a fit to your interests.


Postgraduate Training

The Observational Astrophysics group plans to run training workshops that are dedicated to postgraduate students. These will cover subject-specific and more general research skills. The form and content of these workshops will depend on the needs of individual PhD students.

The Faculty of Science and Technology, ISS and the Library offer additional training. Our students also have the opportunity to participate in departmental outreach training and to develop their presentation skills via participation in our outreach programme.

Example workshops include:

  • An introduction to astronomical data reduction and analysis tools
  • An introduction to the Python coding language

Our students can also apply to attend various national and international schools, including:

  • STFC Introductory and Advanced Summer Schools
  • NEON observing schools
  • Data-Intensive Science training workshops as part of the STFC Centre for Doctoral Training