The lecture “We Are Stardust” explains how we (and, for that matter, any and all complex life forms) are closely connected to the Universe around us. This connection relies on the fact that our Milky Way and other galaxies like it play host to cosmic recycling processes that involve the formation of stars and their planetary systems inside nebulae (dense clouds of gas and dust), nuclear fusion reactions that occur within stars, and the death of massive stars in explosions known as supernovae. As a result of these processes the Earth contains elements like carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen, all of which are essential ingredients of protein molecules and nucleic acids that are basic building blocks of life on Earth. In order to understand our origin we must therefore understand how galaxies form as part of the so-called cosmic web and evolve via galaxy cannibalism: merging and destruction of small satellite galaxies whereby their stars are incorporated into larger galaxies. This portion of the story will take us back to the earliest imaginable times in the history of the Universe. The talk will be illustrated with the latest astronomical images obtained using space- and ground-based telescopes and state-of-the-art computer simulations.

Our speaker Dr. GuhaThakurta is a faculty member at UC Santa Cruz and researcher at UCO/Lick Observatory.

His research focuses on observational studies of galaxy formation and evolution with a particular interest in the Andromeda galaxy, Milky Way galaxy, and dwarf galaxies. He leads the SPLASH (Spectroscopic and Photometric Landscape of Andromeda’s Stellar Halo) and HALO7D (Halo Assembly in LambdaCDM: Observations in 7-Dimensions) projects.

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