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Public Talk

The Monster at the Heart of our Galaxy

November 7, 2018

When: November 7, 2018 7:00PM
Where: The New Vic Theater, 33 West Victoria Street, Santa Barbara

Andrea Ghez


Learn about new developments in the study of supermassive black holes. Through the capture and analysis of twenty years of high-resolution imaging, the UCLA Galactic Center Group has moved the case for a supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy from a possibility to a certainty and provided the best evidence to date for the existence of these truly exotic objects. This was made possible with the first measurements of stellar orbits around a galactic nucleus. Further advances in state-of-the-art of high-resolution imaging technology on the world’s largest telescopes have greatly expanded the power of using stellar orbits to study black holes. Recent observations have revealed an environment around the black hole that is quite unexpected (young stars where there should be none; a lack of old stars where there should be many; and a puzzling new class of objects). Continued measurements of the motions of stars have solved many of the puzzles posed by these perplexing populations of stars. This work is providing insight into how black holes grow and the role that they play in regulating the growth of their host galaxies. Measurements this year of stellar orbits at the Galactic Center have provided new insight on how gravity works near a supermassive hole, a new and unexplored regime for this fundamental force of nature.

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Andrea Ghez

Andrea Ghez is a professor of astronomy at UCLA. From the highest and coldest mountaintop of Hawaii, home of the Keck Observatory telescopes, using bleeding-edge deep-space-scrying technology, Ghez handily confirmed 30 years of suspicions of what lies at the heart of the Milky Way galaxy -- a supermassive black hole, which sends its satellite stars spinning in orbits approaching the speed of light.

Ghez received a MacArthur "genius grant" in 2008 for her work in surmounting the limitations of earthbound telescopes. Early in her career, she developed a technique known as speckle imaging, which combined many short exposures from a telescope into one much-crisper image. Lately she's been using adaptive optics to further sharpen our view from here -- and compile evidence of young stars at the center of the galaxy.

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