Colloquium: Mark Wardle
Oct 28 @ 3:15 pm – 4:15 pm
Colloquium: Mark Wardle @ Biology Annex 102

Star formation in the vicinity of the supermassive black hole at the Galactic Centre

Dr. Mark Wardle, Macquarie University

The disruptive tidal field near supermassive black holes overcomes the self-gravity of objects that are less dense than the Roche density.  This was once expected to suppress star formation within several parsecs of  Sgr A*, the four million solar mass black hole at the centre of the Galaxy.   It has since become apparent that things are not this simple:  Sgr A* is surrounded by a sub-parsec-scale orbiting disk of massive stars, indicating a star formation event occurred a few million years ago.    And on parsec scales,  star formation seems to be happening now:  there are proplyd candidates and protostellar outflow candidates,  as well as methanol and water masers that in the galactic disk would be regarded as sure-fire signatures of star formation.  In this talk, I shall consider how star formation can occur so close to Sgr A*.

The stellar disk may be created through the partial capture of a molecular cloud as it swept through the inner few parsecs of the galaxy and temporarily engulfed Sgr A*.  This rather naturally creates a disk of gas with the steep surface density profile of the present stellar disk.  The inner 0.04 pc  is so optically thick that it cannot fragment, instead accreting onto Sgr A* in a few million years; meanwhile the outer disk fragments and creates the observed stellar disk.   The isolated young stellar objects found at larger distances, on the other hand,  can be explained by stabilisation of clouds or cloud cores by the high external pressure that permeates the inner Galaxy.   A virial analysis shows that clouds are indeed tidally disrupted within 0.5 pc of Sgr A*, but outside this the external pressure allows self-gravitating clouds to survive, providing the raw material for ongoing star formation.


Pizza Lunch: Kristian Finlator
Oct 23 @ 12:30 pm – 1:30 pm
Pizza Lunch: Kristian Finlator @ AY 119

Vastly Improved Simulations of the Hydrogen Reionization Epoch: Too Much for One Paper?

Public Talk: “Preparing to Explore the Universe with the James Webb Space Telescope” – Dr. Jane Rigby (NASA Goddard)
Nov 9 @ 7:00 pm – 8:00 pm
Public Talk: "Preparing to Explore the Universe with the James Webb Space Telescope" - Dr. Jane Rigby (NASA Goddard) @ Gerald Thomas Hall, Room 194

Preparing to Explore the Universe with the James Webb Space Telescope

Dr. Jane Rigby (NASA Goddard, Deputy Project Scientist for JWST)

Abstract: NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), scheduled to be launched in 2019, will revolutionize our view of the Universe.  As the scientific successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, JWST will rewrite the textbooks and return gorgeous images and spectra of our universe.   In my talk, I will show how JWST will revolutionize our understanding of how galaxies and supermassive black holes formed in the first billion years after the Big Bang, and how they evolved over cosmic time.  I’ll describe how our international team is preparing for launch, how we decide what targets to observe, and how we are testing the telescope to be sure it will work in space.

More information about the telescope can be found at



Colloquium: Sanchayeeta Borthakur (Host: Kristian Finlator)
Oct 19 @ 3:15 pm – 4:15 pm
Colloquium:  Sanchayeeta Borthakur (Host: Kristian Finlator) @ BX102

Understanding How Galaxies Reionized the Universe

 Sanchayeeta Borthakur, Arizona State University

Identifying the population of galaxies that was responsible for the reionization of the universe is a long-standing quest in astronomy. While young stars can produce large amounts of ionizing photons, the mechanism behind the escape of Lyman continuum photons (wavelength < 912 A) from star-forming regions has eluded us. To identify such galaxies and to understand the process of the escape of Lyman continuum, we present an indirect technique known as the residual flux technique. Using this technique, we identified (and later confirmed) the first low-redshift galaxy that has an escape fraction of ionizing flux of 21%. This leaky galaxy provides us with valuable insights into the physics of starburst-driven feedback. In addition, since direct detection of ionizing flux is impossible at the epoch of reionization, the residual flux technique presents a highly valuable tool for future studies to be conducted with the upcoming large telescopes such as the JWST.

Public Talk: Janna Levin: Black Hole Blues
Mar 5 @ 7:30 pm – 8:45 pm
Colloquium: Elise Boera (Host: Kristian Finlator)
Dec 6 @ 3:15 pm – 4:15 pm
Colloquium: Elise Boera (Host: Kristian Finlator) @ BX102

Revealing reionization with the thermal history of the intergalactic medium

Elisa Boera, SISSA Trieste

During hydrogen reionization the UV radiation from the first luminous sources injected vast amount of energy into the intergalactic medium, photo-heating the gas to tens of thousands of degree Kelvin. This increase in temperature has left measurable `imprints’ in the thermal history of the cosmic gas: a peak in the temperature evolution at the mean density and a smoothing out of the gas in the physical space by the increased gas pressure following reionization (i.e. Jeans smoothing effect). The structures of the HI Lyman-alpha forest at high redshift are sensitive to both these effects and therefore represent a powerful tool to understand when and how reionization happened. I will present the most recent constraints on the thermal history of the intergalactic medium obtained using the Lyman-alpha forest flux power spectrum at z>5. I will show how these results can be used to obtain information on the timing and the sources of the reionization process and I will discuss their consistency with different possible reionization scenarios.