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Free Astronomy Public Lectures

Each month, from February to November, the Centre for Astrophysics & Supercomputing presents a free public lecture at the Hawthorn campus of Swinburne University of Technology.

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CosmoQuest: Science inside (powered by you!) (Free Astronomy Public Lectures)

Presented by Dr Pamela Gay on 13th September 2013.In order to handle the onslaught of data coming from space and ground-based telescopes, many astronomers are turning to the public for aid. The team behind the new CosmoQuest virtual research centre is building a first of its kind research community for professional and citizen scientists to work together on advancing our understanding of the universe; a community of people who are participating in doing science, and in learning about this cosmos we share. Working with NASA's Dawn, LRO, MESSENGER, and STScI teams, this facility is developing citizen science projects that accomplish needed tasks for mission science teams. It also provides a rich educational context through online classes, virtual star parties, and community collaboration areas. This talk will overview the history of citizen discovery and discuss CosmoQuest and how you can help discover our universe.

1hr 7mins

12 Sep 2013

Rank #1

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Gravitational Lensing: Einstein's Unfinished Symphony (Free Astronomy Public Lectures)

Presented by Professor Richard Ellis on 7th September 2010.In 1919, Arthur Eddington demonstrated Einsteins's prediction that the Sun's gravity deflects the path of light rays. This phenomonon, termed 'gravitational lensing' is now one of the most powerful tools of the modern astronomer. Professor Ellis reviews the history and progress in charting how dark matter is distributed and how easily galaxies can be located using gravitational lensing.


16 Sep 2010

Rank #2

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The Secret Life of an Elliptical Galaxy (Free Astronomy Public Lectures)

Presented by Christina Blom-Smith on 12 June 2012.Despite their uniform appearance elliptical galaxies often have complex and disturbed formation histories. Without the presence of gas, dust and star formation, that we see readily in spiral galaxies, it can be extremely tricky to probe their intriguing formation histories. It is vital to understand how they form since elliptical galaxies contain the highest proportion of stars in the universe and the largest ones uniformly dominate galaxy clusters. Christina Blom, 3rd year PhD student at Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing will take you on a tour of our efforts to unravel the mysteries of elliptical galaxies and share some of our recent successes.


11 Jun 2012

Rank #3

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Cosmic mirages: seeing dark matter with gravitational lenses (Free Astronomy Public Lectures)

Presented by Prof. Mike Hudson on 16th March 2018. Most of the matter in the Universe is dark matter: an elusive particle that is completely invisible. But we can “see” this matter by studying how it distorts the light from galaxies in the distant Universe, a phenomenon called gravitational lensing. I will give a whirlwind tour of gravitational lensing’s “greatest hits” showing how it can be used as a tool to understand some of the most mysterious things in the Universe: from black holes to the “cosmic web” of dark matter that links galaxies together.


15 Mar 2018

Rank #4

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The role of hydrogen in the evolution of galaxies (Free Astronomy Public Lectures)

Presented by Assoc Prof. Virginia Kilborn on 7th November 2014. Hydrogen gas is one of the main components in a galaxy like our own Milky Way - but we can't see it when we gaze into the night sky. I will take you on a journey of the unseen parts of our Galaxy - and others like it - using sensitive observations taken with Australia's best radio telescopes. I will explain how astronomers use observations of hydrogen gas to determine the history, and predict the future, of galaxies in the universe.


6 Nov 2014

Rank #5

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A Tour of the Universe (and Selected Cosmic Mysteries) (Free Astronomy Public Lectures)

Presented by Dr Katherine Mack on 7th December 2014.Everything humanity has ever seen or experienced represents a tiny speck in a vast and mysterious Universe. What else is out there, and how are we figuring it out? What puzzles still wait to be solved? Come with your questions about dark matter, dark energy, black holes, or the ultimate fate of the Universe as we delve into some of cosmology's most fundamental questions.


6 Dec 2014

Rank #6

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The vivid lives of stars (Free Astronomy Public Lectures)

Presented by Poojan Agrawal on the 21st June 2019. Beyond the twinkling dots in the night sky, there are all sorts of stars that are beautiful and fascinating their own sense. I will share the story of how we came to understand these stars as we know them today using the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram and the importance of the lives of these stars in the present-day astrophysical problems.


21 Jun 2019

Rank #7

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Into the heart of darkness: Supermassive black holes at the centres of galaxies - 2014 (Free Astronomy Public Lectures)

Presented by Associate Professor Darren Croton on 19th September 2014.Black holes are amongst the most bizarre objects predicted by Einstein's theory of General Relativity. Many people may not realise that our own galaxy hosts a supermassive black hole at its centre that is three million times more massive than our own Sun! In this talk Associate Professor Darren Croton discusses the physics of black holes and their formation, how they can grow to become so massive, active black hole 'quasars' in the distant universe and the unexpected impact that a supermassive black hole can have on the evolution of an entire galaxy. We will finish by side stepping into the exotic world of wormholes, the black hole's tormented cousin.

1hr 8mins

17 Sep 2014

Rank #8

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Into the heart of darkness: supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies - 2016 (Free Astronomy Public Lectures)

Presented by Prof. Darren Croton on 21 October 2016.Black holes are among the most bizarre objects predicted by Einstein's theory of General Relativity. Many people may not realise that our own galaxy hosts a supermassive black hole at its centre that is three million times more massive than our own Sun! In this talk Professor Darren Croton from the Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing will discuss the physics of black holes and their formation, how they can grow to become so massive, active black hole "quasars" in the distant universe, and the unexpected impact that a supermassive black hole can have on the evolution of an entire galaxy. Professor Croton will finish by side stepping into the exotic world of wormholes, the black hole's tormented cousin

1hr 13mins

20 Oct 2016

Rank #9

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Learning about the sub-atomic world from observations to the edge of the Universe (Free Astronomy Public Lectures)

Presented by Assoc. Prof. Chris Blake on 18th April 2012.Scientists have been trying to understand the building blocks of matter for millenia. What are the fundamental particles and forces that shape the sub-atomic world? Even today, we are faced with a series of puzzles and challenges that could overturn our view of reality. What particle makes up the dark matter? What are neutrinos, and do they really trave l faster than the speed of light? What caused the slight imbalance between matter and anti-matter, leading to a Universe in the first place? Powerful particle accelerators, such as the Large Hadron Collider, are striving to answer these questions. However, by peering into the distant Universe we can find the ultimate particle accelerator of them all: the Big Bang. In this talk we will explore how observations to the edge of the Universe can test our theories about the smallest particles that exist, and may change our views about the fundamental nature of reality.


17 Apr 2012

Rank #10

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Breakthrough! The detection of gravitational waves from a neutron star merger (Free Astronomy Public Lectures)

Presented by Assoc. Prof. Tara Murphy on 23 November 2018. On August 17th 2017 the LIGO-Virgo interferometer detected gravitational waves from a neutron star merger in a galaxy 130 million light years away. This was a breakthrough for physics and astronomy. What followed was a frenzy of activity as astronomers around the world worked to detect electromagnetic radiation with conventional telescopes. After this unprecedented effort the event was detected in gamma-rays, x-rays, visible light and radio waves. I will discuss this incredible scientific result and its implications, including: predictions made by Einstein; the production of gold and other heavy elements; and our understanding of black hole formation. I will also give a 'behind the scenes' perspective of how it happened, and discuss the changes in the way we do science in this era of big astronomy.


26 Nov 2018

Rank #11

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Cosmology: from the Big Bang to the formation of atoms (Free Astronomy Public Lectures)

Presented by Assoc. Prof. Emma Ryan-Weber on 10 February 2017.The whole Universe was in a hot dense state, then nearly 14 billion years ago expansion started. Wait... is the Bang Bang true and how do we know? In this talk Associate Professor Emma Ryan-Weber from the Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing will describe the observational evidence for Big Bang Cosmology and how it sets the initial conditions for every atom in the Universe. The talk is especially suitable for year 11 teachers and students studying VCE Physics Unit 1, area of study 3 "What is matter and how is it formed".


28 Mar 2017

Rank #12

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From Games to Galaxies (Free Astronomy Public Lectures)

Presented by Dr Christopher Fluke on 20th August 2010.Advancements in modern astronomy are increasingly dependent on access to powerful computing facilities. This talk introduces the exciting new world of CPU-powered astronomy, which is taking us from computer games to galaxies.

1hr 3mins

19 Aug 2010

Rank #13

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Planets: From our Solar System to new Exoworlds (Free Astronomy Public Lectures)

Presented on 18 March 2016 by Elodie Thilliez and Matthew Agnew.The Solar system is a remarkable place filled with wonderfully varied worlds. Travelling outwards from the sun we first encounter the hellish, rocky bodies of Mercury and Venus, continue to the cooler, water bearing world of Earth and our close neighbour Mars. Beyond the asteroid belt we hit the majestic gas giants of Jupiter and Saturn and continuing on our voyage we finally reach the cold ice giants of Uranus and Neptune. The Solar system is our home and our starting point for understanding planetary systems and their architectures. Until the late 20th century these were the only planets known to us, however, in the last two decades, there has been enormous and rapid progress in the discovery and understanding of planets beyond our Solar system, dubbed Exoplanets. As we discover more and more of these exoplanets, and the planetary systems to which they belong, our understanding of planet formation and planetary architectures has changed and raised several questions. Where did these Jupiter-sized, gas giants orbiting their stars in as little as 3 days come from? What is a 'super Earth'? Will we find another habitable world? In this lecture we will answer some of these questions as we explore our very own Solar system, look at how we observe and discover Exoplanets, and examine how these other planetary systems differ to our own.

1hr 4mins

17 Mar 2016

Rank #14

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Heavy elements in Red Giant Stars (Free Astronomy Public Lectures)

Presented on 20 May 2016 by Amanda Karakas. Most of the elements in the periodic table heavier than hydrogen and helium were forged in stars. Through the combined studies of stellar spectroscopy, nuclear physics, geochemistry, and astrophysics, humans have been able to work out the origin of many of the chemical elements that naturally occur in our Solar System. We know for example that most of the oxygen in the air was forged in ancient supernova explosions, which are the end product of very massive stars. The carbon in our bodies was synthesized instead by stars covering a wide range of stellar masses, from solar-type stars like our Sun through to massive stars. The biggest mystery today concerns the origins of the elements heavier than iron. In this talk I will take you on a journey through the origin of the elements, with a special focus on where the heaviest elements in nature are formed. in order to do this, I will discuss some basics about the life cycle of stars, which is intimately connected to the story of the origin of the elements through the nuclear reactions that occur deep in their interiors. Presented on 20 May 2016.


11 Aug 2016

Rank #15

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The most ancient spiral galaxies seen through nature's largest telescopes (Free Astronomy Public Lectures)

Presented by Dr Tiantian Yuan on Friday 29 September 2017.One of the most prominent features of galaxies today is the manifestation of elegant spiral arms. We live in a beautiful grand-design spiral galaxy called the Milky Way. Our Solar System, including the Earth and the only life that we know, lies within the Orion spiral arm of our Milky Way galaxy. However, as we look back in time to the very early Universe, the frequency of spiral galaxies decreases dramatically. In fact, most galaxies in the distant past are messy and irregular in shape. Why is it so? When was the first appearance of spiral arms? How were they formed? In this talk, I will take us 11 billion years back in time through the distorted space surrounding nature's most massive structures. We will get a glimpse of earliest onset of spiral arms and directly witness the formation of a spiral galaxy that could later be home to billions of stars and planets like our earth.


28 Sep 2017

Rank #16

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Discovering the unexpected: Pulsars, fast radio bursts and aliens?

Presented by Prof. Matthew Bailes on 30 September 2016. Almost 50 years ago Jocelyn Bell built a new telescope with her supervisor Antony Hewish that had an unusual property: it had high time resolution. The radio sky was thought to only change on long timescales but this new telescope's ability to explore a different regime of phase space meant that it made one of the greatest discoveries in astronomy, that of pulsars. Pulsars are neutron stars, the collapsed cores of once-massive stars. They have been used to perform some of the most accurate experiments in physics, and were the motivation for the construction of the LIGO telescope that recently discovered gravitational waves. In this talk Professor Matthew Bailes will explain how whilst trying to find new pulsars astronomers stumbled across a brand new phenomenon, the Fast Radio Bursts. These millisecond-duration radio flashes appear to be coming from half way across the Universe but nobody knows what they are.

1hr 21mins

29 Sep 2016

Rank #17

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The fast radio burst mystery (Free Astronomy Public Lectures)

Presented by Dr Emily Petroff on 9 February 2018.Most things in the universe happen over millions or even billions of years but some things change on the timescales of human life and can be seen to change in a matter of months, days, or even seconds. These sources are called transients and are some of the most extreme events in the Universe, things like the collapse of a dying star, or a collision of two massive objects. Humans have been observing astronomical transients for centuries, from supernovae to gamma ray bursts and, most recently, gravitational waves, but recent advances in telescope power and technology mean we’re observing more and more transients each year and even finding new types. In 2007 we discovered a brand new type of transient called fast radio bursts (FRBs), bright radio pulses that last only a few milliseconds. Their origin is one of the newest unsolved mysteries of astronomy but it is clear they are produced in tremendously energetic processes, possibly even billions of light years away. I will tell the story of their discovery, some of our most exciting new breakthroughs, and how new telescopes in Australia and around the world are poised to answer some of the big questions about FRBs in the next few years.

1hr 3mins

8 Feb 2018

Rank #18

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Einstein and Astronomers: An Ongoing Cosmic Saga (Free Astronomy Public Lectures)

Presented by Dr Eyal Kazin on 8th November 2013.Astronomers and Physicists have an interesting ongoing relationship. Normally, physicists explain natural phenomena, and tell astronomers what they should be probing in space. Once in a while, however, astronomers point out observations that cause the theorists to poke in the dark for interpretations. Dr. Kazin will bring the audience up to speed on the frontiers of these golden ages of cosmology and explain why scientists are still baffled about the mysterious dark nature of the Universe.

1hr 2mins

7 Nov 2013

Rank #19

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State of the Universe V - The Spectrum Strikes Back (Free Astronomy Public Lectures)

Celebrate the International Year of Light and National Science Week 2015 with Assoc. Prof. Chris Fluke, as he hosts his fifth annual review of the State of the Universe. This year, the focus is on the visual Universe. No supercomputers. No radiotelescopes. Just good old fashioned astronomy with images. Taken from spacecraft. Which needed radio telescopes to collect the images on Earth. And computers to process them. Presented by Chris Fluke on 14 August 2015.


18 Aug 2015

Rank #20