The Milky Way as a Star Formation Engine 

Towards a predictive Galaxy-scale model of the Star Formation Life-Cycle


Rome, September 26th-30th 2016

 "Angelicum" Congress Center

Pontificia Università S. Tommaso D'Aquino



The Milky Way Galaxy is a complex ecosystem where a cyclical transformation process brings diffuse baryonic matter into dense unstable condensations to form stars. They produce radiant energy for billions of years before releasing chemically enriched material back into the Inter Stellar Medium in their final stages of evolution. Star formation is the trigger of this process, eventually driving the evolution of ordinary matter in the Universe, from its primordial composition to the present-day chemical diversity necessary for the birth of life. 

Although considerable progress has been made in the last two decades in the understanding of the evolution of isolated dense molecular clumps toward the onset of gravitational collapse and the formation of stars and planetary systems, several key-questions remain elusive. 

- What is the relative importance of gravity, turbulence or the perturbation from spiral arms in assembling the diffuse and mostly atomic Galactic ISM into molecular dense filamentary structures and compact clumps ? 

- How do turbulence, gravity, external triggers and magnetic fields interact on different spatial scales to bring a diffuse cloud on the verge of star formation ? 

- How do the relative weights of these different agents change  from extreme environments like the Galactic Center to the quiet neighborhoods of the Galaxy beyond the solar circle ?

- How can we quantitatively relate the different physical agents at work, to the rate and the efficiency with which they are able to turn gas and dust into stars ? 

The creation of a fundamental theory or, rather, of a galaxy-scale predictive model for star formation, is a key challenge. We enter a new era where a new suite of cutting-edge Milky Way surveys of the entire Galactic Plane have already started to transform the view of our Galaxy as a global star formation engine. The combination of near-IR ground surveys data, mid-IR and far-IR dust continuum obtained by ESA's HERSCHEL and NASA's SPITZER and WISE satellites, submillimeter and radio continuum, and gas-tracing atomic and molecular spectroscopy from ground-based antennas, is for the first time unlocking access to angular scales below 30" across 4 decades in wavelength for both the dust and the three gas components of the ISM (molecular, atomic and ionised).

The integrated science analysis of these massive and diverse datasets requires new concepts of 3D-based visual analytics tools that integrate data access, sources and features extraction, model fitting and source classifications.

This conference marks the conclusion of the EU-funded FP7 Collaborative Project "VIALACTEA", whose objectives and aims inspire the main topics of the conference.

Confirmed Invited Speakers

Alyssa Goodman

Andi Burkert

Eugenio Schisano

Paul Clark

Davide Elia

James Urquhart

Floris van der Tak

Shu-Ichiro Inutsuka

Sarah Ragan

Pedro Palmeirim

Ana Duarte-Cabral

Ronald Drimmel

Roberta Paladini

Andreas Brunthaler

Steve Longmore

Annie Hughes

Steffi Walch

Fabio Pasian



VIALACTEA 2016 aims at promoting advances in a number of fields

  • InterStellar Medium, Molecular clouds and Filaments: from the diffuse texture of the ISM to the backbone skeleton of the Milky Way
  • Demographics of Galactic Clumps and Cluster Progenitors: conditions, timelines, rates and efficiencies of cluster and massive star formation as a function of mass and environment
  • Triggering, Spiral Arms, Turbulence and Gravitation: sifting the ingredients of a Galactic Star Formation Recipe.
  • The 3-D Galaxy from the near-infrared to the radio
  • The Milky Way in the context of its surrounding environment, nearby galaxies and of extra-galactic star formation recipes.
  • Visual analytics, data mining and science gateways: new tools for an integrated science analysis of multi-wavelengths Galactic surveys in the Virtual Observatory framework


We foresee stimulating formats for focused discussions, where current theoretical frameworks for each of the above topics will be critically reviewed in the light of the latest observational results. Data visualization and science analysis tools will be discussed in each topics, and we foresee sessions of demos and hands-on experience.