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The Accelerating Universe, Galaxy Evolution and ELTs

Professor Warrick Couch

Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing
Swinburne University of Technology

Friday, 19 October 2007, 3.30pm, EN101, Ground Floor, Engineering Building, Hawthorn.

Over the last two decades, there have been enormous advances in tracking the behavior of the universe over cosmic time, both in terms of its dynamics and the evolution of its vast galaxy population. We now know the precise rate at which the universe is currently expanding and we have also discovered that its expansion has been accelerating over the last ~8 billion years – leading to the conclusion that the universe is filled with a mysterious “dark energy”. How galaxies evolve, both morphologically and in forming their stellar populations, has also been observed directly back to when the universe was only a small fraction of its present age. Critical in making these discoveries has been the extraordinary light-gathering power and resolution of the largest ground- and space-based telescopes. Spurred on by this success and a desire to see back to the very earliest times in the universe when the first objects were formed, astronomers are now designing even larger optical telescopes – what are called “Extremely Large Telescopes” (ELTs) – that will be 20-40m in diameter. In this talk, I will describe this new industry of ELT development, focusing on the scientific motivation for building such large and expensive facilities, and the significant progress that has been made towards having ELTs in operation before the end of the next decade. I will do so from the perspective of my own scientific interests in cosmology and galaxy evolution, and my position as the Australian ELT Project Scientist.

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