Galaxies and AGNs

The group investigates  galaxy evolution along  cosmic history. In particular, discovering how and when stars formed in galaxies, how and when supermassive black holes in their centers grow and what is the relation between both processes, known as feedback. These studies span from the local Universe to the first and more distant galaxies formed, but with special emphasis in the epoch of major activity, both regarding star formation and supermassive black hole growth, that is when the Universe was at  20%-50% of its current age (z~1-3).

For this purpose, our group carries out astronomical observations across the electromagnetic spectrum, from radio, infrared or optical to the X-rays, both for particular sources and as part of multi-wavelength surveys (leading some of them, such as the Bright Ultra-hard XMM-Newton Survey -BUXS-). Competitive access to the most relevant astronomical ground (VLT and ALMA in ESO, IRAM, VLA/Jansky, Effelsberg, EVN, GTC, ORM, CAHA, etc.) and space (XMM-Newton, Spitzer, Herschel) observatories, is an essential asset in  our group, since scientific achievements are often driven by such observations.

Regarding the large astronomical infrastructures and their related advanced instrumentation, the group participates in leading positions in the most competitive projects at  Spanish, European and world-wide level. These activities are considered by the group as an strategic target. Some members of the group have relevant roles in future space missions such as Athena (ESA), and in ground observatories like GTC, OAJ and ESO.

The group participates assiduously in the outreach tasks of both IFCA and ACO (Science Week, Open Doors, Expanding Science - even more, February 11th, Researchers' Night ...), organising some of them. In this regard, it is worth mentioning the management of the Astronomical Observatory of Cantabria by members of the group.

The main research projects of the group can be summarised as:

 Extragalactic Surveys
 Intrumentation for Large Telescopes
 Athena: A mission to understand the hot and energetic Universe
 Quasars with star formation

 The Bright Ultra-hard XMM-Newton Survey (BUXS): Obscured black hole growth in the z<1 Universe

Annual Report (2018)

During 2018, important advances have been made in several projects in which the group of Galaxies and AGN of the IFCA participates:

  • - The analysis of the ALHAMBRA Survey data is ongoing. The data are being used by the team to measure many different aspects of galaxy formation and evolution

  • - The first square degree of the intermediate band wide area survey J-PAS has been concluded and catalogues have been produced
  • - OTELO  (the census of galaxies with the deepest emission lines to date) has been completed and the data will be published soon
  • - Within the Athena project, the phase A1 has been completed with Status Review 1 in October 2018, the Instrument Preliminary Review (IPRR) of the WFI instrument has been passed in October 2018 and an onboard processing baseline has been established for the IPRR of the X -IFU (expected for February 2019) and the instruments consortia have been officially accepted by ESA in December 2018

  • - The Athena Community Office (ACO), led by IFCA, supports the Athena Science Study Team in managing the 800-strong Athena Community and has participated in the Athena-SKA (finished) and multi-messenger (started) synergy exercises and it manages the Athena Mock Observation Plan.

In addition, the group is increasingly involved in applying Machine Learning techniques to Astronomy, with a new postdoc (expert in classification algorithms) hired and collaborations started with with the Instituto de Inteligencia Artificial de Barcelona (Spain, to apply machine learning techniques to the detection and characterization of X-ray pulses in X-IFU detector on board Athena) and with MPE (Germany, to select and characterise multiwavelength counterparts to X-ray sources). As part of these efforts the group has encouraged and led setting an IFCA-wide working group on Machine Learning techniques.

The group persistently participates in all the outreach activities of IFCA, even leading some of them, such as two astronomical observations performed from the IFCA premises and those organised by the ACO. Furthermore, the directorship of Astronomical Observatory of Cantabria is being held by a member of the group.

Key figures 2018: 6 senior researchers, 5 hired postdocs and 1 part-time contractor. 5 active projects. 10 papers in top JCR journals. Active participation in the UIMP-UC Particle Physics and Cosmos Master.

Selected Papers 2018:

  • KIC 8462852: Will the Trojans return in 2021?
  • Ballesteros, F.J.; Arnalte-Mur, P.; Fernandez-Soto, A.; Martínez, V.J. 2018, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 473, L21-L25

  • Deep learning for galaxy surface brightness profile fitting
  • Tuccillo, D., M. Huertas-Company, E. Decencière, S. Velasco-Forero, H. Domínguez Sánchez, & P. Dimauro,  2018,  Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society,  475,  894-909

  • The ATHENA X-ray Integral Field Unit (X-IFU)
  • Barret, D., T. Lam Trong, J.-W. den Herder, L. Piro,  et al.,  2018, Proceedings Space Telescopes and Instrumentation 2018: Ultraviolet to Gamma Ray,  10699,  106991G

  • XMMPZCAT: A catalogue of photometric redshifts for X-ray sources
  • Ruiz, A., A. Corral, G. Mountrichas, & I. Georgantopoulos,  2018,  Astronomy and Astrophysics,  618,  A52



  • Phase A1 of the Athena project was completed in October 2018, the two instrument consortia were officially accepted by ESA in December 2018 and the IPRR of one of them (WFI) was successfully passed in October 2018. Athena is on track for its Mission Formulation Review in the third quarter of 2019, adoption in 2021 and launch in the early 2030s

  • KIC 8462852, also known as "Tabby´s Star" is probably the most strange star ever observed. During the years that the Kepler satellite observed it there was a major dimming (similar to what a crossing planet would have caused, but much larger than any previously observed), and there were two different periods of strong, highly irregular variability. In this paper our group suggests that the major dimming could have been caused by a very large, ringed planet, whereas the irregular periods could be produced by Trojan asteroids associated to its orbit. We predict the onset of a new phase of irregular variability in 2021, and the next passage of the large planet in 2023. This paper attracted a lot of media attention, thus being classified at the top of the "AltMetric" rating for several weeks after its publication, and it remains within the top 5% articles in its scale.

Group Project Grants

Group Members




Group Publications

Group publications (all) in the Astrophysical Data System (ADS)

Group publications (year 2018) in the Astrophysical Data System (ADS)


  • Joint Centre with the combined effort of Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) and University of Cantabria (UC)

    Instituto de Física de Cantabria
    Edificio Juan Jordá
    Avenida de los Castros, s/n
    E-39005 Santander
    Cantabria, Spain

  • © 2018 IFCA- Institute of Physics of Cantabria