Gravity, turbulence and magnetic fields are fundamental physical agents that govern the dynamical evolution of our Milky Way as a star and planet formation engine. They are simultaneously active on all scales, ranging from the Galaxy as a whole down to individual protoplanetary disks. At the same time, the momentum and energy input from stars, in form of radiation, winds and supernovae, creates highly non-linear feedback loops that strongly influence the behavior of the system across the entire cascade of scales.
We currently witness a paradigm shift in galactic astronomy and astrophysics. Approaches that treat the constituents of the Galaxy in equilibrium and look at the various scales in isolation have reached clear limits. A comprehensive model of our Milky Way needs to consider it as one single complex ecosystem. It needs to identify the initial and boundary conditions for structure formation at all scales involved, and it needs to be based on a complete inventory of the conditions conducive to the birth of stars and planets. Our primary goal is to build a unifying predictive model of star and planet formation in the Milky Way.
Based on a unique combination of theoretical modeling and multi-wavelengths observations, we will :
– trace the properties of planet-forming disks back to their environment in different parts of the Galaxy,
– determine the physical processes that regulate the birth to stars and determine their key parameters,
– deliver a well calibrated galaxy template which can be used to study systems in the distant Universe.
Although new data and numerical simulations are at the very heart of our project, ECOGAL is much more than "getting better data" or "obtaining more computational power". In fact, the fundamental challenge in our field is the lack of capabilities in making sense out of the data deluge. ECOGAL creates the synergic framework through which optical-to-radio data for tens-of-thousands of molecular clouds and hundreds-of-thousands of star formation sites in the Milky Way will be analyzed back-to-back with state-of-the-art theoretical simulations of the diverse Galactic environments, linked with innovative machine-learning techniques to transform this knowhow into a set of easy-to-use tools with decision-making capabilities that are made available to the larger community.
ECOGAL will reach these goals by uniquely interweaving the expertise and efforts of four European research groups at the forefront of science in four fundamental pillars of astronomy and astrophysics: observations, theoretical simulations, instrumentation and data analysis.