Scientific Rationale

Nearby clusters host the oldest stellar populations and the results of the final collapse of massive stellar systems. Because of their proximity, which ensures excellent intrinsic spatial resolution in comparison with more distant clusters and allows the observations of individual stellar sources that are not accessible further away, nearby clusters are excellent laboratories to study the physical properties of old stellar populations and the relation with their black holes. Furthermore by using several tracers for measuring the distances of the different galaxies in these clusters, it is possible to construct a three dimensional picture and set constraints on how and when the different components, dark matter and baryons, come together to form the structures that we now see. The various galaxy morphological types can also be placed within these clusters' 3-D structures and information can be collected on the effect of high density environments on the individual galaxy's morphology and evolution.

This conference aims to address some of the most important questions in galaxy formation and evolution, using what we can learn from the nearby clusters of galaxies:

  • Can we assess the detailed star formation history associated with the most massive galaxies?
  • How did the baryons and dark matter assemble to form galaxies as we now see them at low redshift?
  • Does this formation process depend on local density and if so, how?
  • How and in what galaxies does the co-evolution of the black hole and the host galaxy set in?
  • What are the predictions from galaxy formation models regarding the morphological evolution of galaxies in clusters?

Over the last 5-10 years, the nearby clusters - Fornax, Virgo, Coma, Hydra and Centaurus - have been the favorite targets of imaging and spectroscopic surveys like the HST ACS Virgo, Fornax and Coma surveys, the SAURON and ATLAS-3D survey of nearby galaxies, and the 2dF Fornax Cluster Survey. The international community has used the ESO VLT instruments extensively for the follow-up of the individual cluster components, from single stars to small stellar systems like planetary nebulae, globular clusters, ultra-compact dwarfs, to cluster galaxies, from the faintest dwarfs to the brightest giant ellipticals, to understand the physical properties of galaxies, from their centers and outwards, and from the clusters' cores to the clusters' outermost periphery.

This ESO workshop will provide an overview of recent observational results about stellar systems in the nearby clusters, i.e. Fornax, Virgo, Coma et al., and organize a forum for the discussion and comparison of theoretical models for the evolution of galaxies and larger-scale structures with observational properties of stellar systems, and how can we use the high spatial resolution specifically achieved in the nearby clusters to learn about galaxy evolution in general, and on all mass scales and surface brightnesses. The aim is also to identify those questions which can be tackled by the E-ELT, as the exceptional high angular resolution and collecting power of an extremely large telescope are essential ingredients for the study of resolved stellar populations at distances larger than 10 Mpc. The nearby clusters Fornax, Virgo, Coma et al. will be the first obvious targets of this new exciting era in extragalactic astronomy.