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This Week at Physics

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Event Number 2534

  Thursday, January 26th, 2012

Astronomy Colloquium
Probing the dark hearts of dusty galaxies - molecules as diagnostic tools
Time: 3:30 pm
Place: 4421 Sterling Hall
Speaker: Susanne Aalto, Chalmers University of Technology
Abstract: Spectacular starburst and AGN activity occurs when mergers of gas-rich systems funnel massive amounts of molecular gas and dust
into the remnant centers of ultraluminous infrared galaxies (ULIRGs). In these compact regions molecular gas rotating in the cores obscures and feeds the activity. Much of the ongoing research into initial phases of galaxy building, however, also focuses on the pre-ULIRG phases of starbursts, QSOs and assembly of galaxies via major mergers. These phases parallel conditions in lower luminosity starbursts (LIRGs) with spatially extended starburst regions. Detailed studies of LIRGS, ULIRGs, and AGN in the near-field are therefore essential both for defining the evolution of present day galaxies and sorting out key astrophysical processes in their more distant predecessors.

I will present how we can probe the nature and evolution of the dense interstellar medium (ISM), a primary evolutionary vector in starburst and AGN activity, using molecular tracers that penetrate the vast columns of dust - and also enable unique investigations of chemical and physical conditions in the molecular gas and dust. The most compact obscured nuclei, for example, need to be studied with radiatively excited molecular emission to get past the optically thick barrier.
With the emerging unprecedented capacities of ALMA we can address the nature of AGNs and starbursts, their associated molecular outflows in the context of their evolution and the starburst-AGN connection near and far.
Host: Professor John S Gallagher
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