With two new ERC grants in 2023, to DTU Space astrophysicists Victoria Antoci and João Mendonça, basic research in astrophysics at DTU is further strengthened. (Photo: DTU Space)

DTU researchers receive highly coveted grants for space research

Senior researchers and astrophysicists at DTU Space, Victoria Antoci and João Mendonça, have each received 15 million DKK from the European Research Council, ERC, for their research over the next five years into stars and planets respectively. With the two ERC grants, basic research in astrophysics at DTU is further strengthened.

Exploring the distant universe is fascinating basic research that plays a significant role in understanding our solar system.

"By investigating other stars and planets, we learn about, among other things, how the Sun operates, how it affects the Earth and how our climate will develop over long time scales here on Earth and other planets in our Solar System," says senior researcher Victoria Antoci, who receives one of the ERC grants.

The researchers passed ERC's eye of the needle with suggestions for ground-breaking research

With proposals for ground-breaking research related to these subjects, Victoria Antoci and João Mendonça have come through the eye of the needle with their applications at the ERC.

The coveted grants ensure DTU and the two researchers a leading position in their respective research areas in the coming years. 

Senior researcher Victoria Antoci leads the MAGNIFY project at DTU Space, aiming to unlock the secrets of magnetic fields in stars. Fundamental to stellar evolution and structure, magnetic fields are notoriously elusive, challenging scientists to infer their presence and properties through indirect observations and theoretical modeling.

This ambitious project explores magnetic fields in stars with masses slightly higher than the Sun. While about 60 percent of red giants, which are older stars nearing the later stages of their life cycle, have prevalent magnetic fields, these fields are only detected in 10 percent of their younger counterparts. This puzzles the scientists.

The MAGNIFY project aims to uncover these elusive magnetic fields by utilizing asteroseismology, a technique akin to seismic studies on Earth, and examining stellar spots, the visible fingerprints of magnetic fields, using data from NASA's Kepler and TESS missions and ESA's star surveyor Gaia.

"The insights gained will deepen our knowledge of stellar evolution in general and help us better understand our own Sun and its magnetic cycle," says Victoria Antoci.

New climate model that can handle both our Earth and exoplanets

João Mendonça's project is called Foundation. This project aims to develop a universal climate model to improve climate predictions on Earth and other planets, including extreme weather events.

Planetary climate models are essential for understanding Earth's climate while also being windows into the planetary climates that may exist throughout the Universe.

The goals of the project include unveiling the mysteries of the atmospheres in our Solar System, such as the Great Red Spot storm on Jupiter, and studying the climate of terrestrial exoplanets. The latter are planets that revolve around a star, like our Earth revolves around the Sun.

"We will develop a model capable of simulating planetary atmospheres to an unprecedented level of accuracy and realism. It will incorporate artificial intelligence (AI) to create a robust virtual laboratory for planets. This project has the potential to revolutionize the way we study planetary atmospheres, including exoplanets, and usher in a new generation of climate models," says João Mendonça.

Important interaction between the two projects

While Antoci and Mendonça pursue their independent studies, their work intertwines inevitably.

“A deep understanding of planets necessitates knowledge of their stars, just as comprehending stars requires insights into how planets may influence them,” says Victoria Antoci.
With their grants, the two researchers will expand their two research groups with 15 PhD students and postdocs in the coming years.

The European Research Council, ERC, distributes around DKK 20 billion annually for research

The European Research Council, ERC, is the leading European funding organization for pioneering research.

This year, ERC Consolidator Grants were awarded to 308 out of 2,130 applicants from research institutions throughout the EU, including the two DTU Space scientists. 

Each year, the ERC awards research funds through various types of grants to talented and creative researchers based in Europe, regardless of nationality or age.

In 2021-2027, ERC distributes around DKK 20 billion annually for research.