SLAS Regular Meeting
Friday, November 18, 2011
Observing the Most Violent Objects in the Universe - With Gamma Ray Telescopes
Dr. Matthias Beilicke
We used to think of the Universe as a quiet, peaceful place. Stars sparkled serenely through the jet black of outer space, seemingly changeless and eternal. That picture has changed. Stars much more massive than our sun voraciously consume their nuclear fuel and then suffer violent deaths in supernova explosions. Enormous black holes lurk in the centers of many galaxies, pulling in dust and gas and spewing some of this material out in ultra-high speed jets extending for thousands of trillions of miles. These most violent of astronomical objects produce torrents of the highest energy particles - gamma rays. Special instruments are needed to detect gamma rays and so observe these objects. Dr. Beilicke will explain how these Cherenkov telescopes work. He will also highlight recent discoveries from gamma ray observations of supernova explosions, nebulae glowing from the winds of pulsars, the center of the Milky Way galaxy, and huge galaxies that are so distant that their light takes millions of years to reach us.
Matthias Beilicke is a Research Assistant Professor of Physics at Washington University. His research is focused on gamma-ray astronomy with Cherenkov telescopes. He studies the very high energy processes of the most violent objects in the Universe, in order to understand how they work and how they change over time.