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Inaugural lecture Ms Prof A. Helmi: The fascinating Milky Way

When:Tu 11-11-2014 at 16:15
Where:Aula Academiegebouw, Broerstraat 5, Groningen

Inaugural lecture: Ms prof A. Helmi

Title: The fascinating Milky Way

Chair: Dynamics, structure and evolution of the Wilky Way

Faculty: Mathematics and Natural Sciences

The Milky Way is the home of thousands of millions of stars and planets, including our Sun and the Earth. The beauty of the myriads of stars that can be seen on a clear night as a whitish band of light on the sky have always been a source of inspiration and fascination for humankind. For astronomers like myself, in particular, that fascination lies also in deciphering the workings of the Universe through the use of mathematics and the laws of physics.

The Milky Way is fundamental for our understanding of the Universe as a whole, and effectively acts like a Rosetta stone that is used to figure out what the constituents of the Universe are and how galaxies in general have formed. It is fascinating also to realize that some of the stars that are close to the Sun now were born in the infant Universe, and are like fossils that have witnessed how the Milky Way grew into what it is today.

The focus of this lecture, and of my own research, is precisely to use stars to reconstruct the history and the characteristics of our home galaxy and its nearest neighbours. In this lecture I will describe what we have learned so far and discuss the research in what is a Golden Era for Galactic Astronomy. In the coming decade the recently launched European Space Agency’s satellite Gaia will measure accurately the spatial distribution, kinematics and properties of a billion stars in the Milky Way. This unparalleled new dataset will allow us to address the most fundamental questions about our Galaxy’s history and dynamics. With the revolutionary new understanding of a typical galaxy like ours that Gaia promises to deliver, we will obtain unique insights on the process of galaxy formation and on the nature and role of dark matter, two of the most urgent open questions in modern Astrophysics.

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