I’m on the way home from the Formation and Evolution of Galaxy Outskirts conference, an International Astronomical Union Symposium held in Toledo, Spain from March 14-18, 2016.

Tweets from the conference are here and the program is here, so I won’t attempt to mention nearly every talk the way I did last year with Python in Astronomy. I think the organizers did a good job with scheduling the program, moving from talks about observations of the Milky Way and nearest galaxies to computational simulations of galaxy formation, observations of more distant galaxies, and finally the gas around very distant galaxies. The daily schedule seemed more punishing than typical conferences, but I think that was probably due to a combination of jet lag and Spanish mealtimes rather than an unreasonable number of talks.

What did I get out of the meeting? I found the talks about simulations particularly interesting; this is an area I haven’t had a lot of exposure to in recent years so it’s good to see the state of the art. I was impressed by instrumentation advances such as Dragonfly and MUSE and KMOS on the VLT. The outskirts of galaxies are faint and difficult to study; these instruments represent very sophisticated and clever approaches to dealing with this problem Exciting discoveries are going to be made with them in the next few years.

Speaking of the next few years, the JWST launch is about two and a half years away. The last session of the conference brought home the fact that it’s time to start thinking now about writing proposals for this telescope – it has a limited lifetime and so it’s important to maximize the use we get out of it. Some of the science program will be decided before launch, in the next 18 months or thereabouts, so it really is time to get going.

Here are science take-aways from the meeting. None of these are particularly brilliant insights, rather they are just themes that seemed to keep recurring.

  • there’s good evidence that galaxies form inside-out, so the outskirts are younger than the centre
  • very distant (and therefore very young) galaxies often have a lot of structure, which must therefore have formed very early
  • the physical conditions in the outskirts of galaxies are different from those in more-populated parts, and not necessarily well-modelled (yet)
  • a galaxy’s interactions with its environment mostly take place in its outskirts

I was happy to see a lot of instances of “open science” popping up in the meeting, from the publically-available RAMSES code, to the Stripe 82 Legacy Project and DAGAL databases. As I have said before, I think people who work on nearby galaxies are pretty good about sharing data, and the Illustris simulation group seems to be as well. I had an interesting chat with B. Madore about the future of NED — it will be interesting to see where that particular avenue for data sharing goes.

All in all, a good conference – I met some new folks and renewed some old acquaintances, thought a lot about galaxies, and ate a lot of Spanish ham. Not a bad way to spend a week.