Oort Lecture 2010

"Cosmic Dawn - The Search for the First Galaxies"

The speaker

Richard S. Ellis is the Steele Professor of Astronomy at the California Institute of Technology. He obtained his PhD in astrophysics at Oxford University in 1974, soon became Professor of Astronomy at Durham University and later moved to Cambridge to become Plumian Professor of Astronomy at the University of Cambridge. His research involves the study of the origin and evolution of galaxies, the growth of large scale structure and the nature of dark matter. In 1995, he was appointed a Fellow of the Royal Society. In 2008, he was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

The subject

The light of the most distant galaxies has traveled so long that astronomers are effectively looking back in time. Whereas the age of the universe is now slightly more than 13 billion years, astronomers can see galaxies which emitted their light when the universe was a billion years old. Some time before that, the hydrogen in the universe was ionized by radiation into its component protons and electrons. Theorists speculate this landmark event was caused by the birth of the first galaxies. Can powerful telescopes, probing back in cosmic history, directly see the galaxies that are responsible? The first results from the Wide Field Camera 3 onboard Hubble Space Telescope give a glimpse at primitive stellar systems at the earliest times. Professor Ellis will address the progress and challenges of this fundamental quest for our origins, and discuss the future prospects with the James Webb Space Telescope and the next generation of 30-40 meter aperture ground-based telescopes.

The Oort Lecture

The Oort Lecture is an annual event, in memory of the famous Dutch astronomer, organised by the Jan Hendrik Oort Foundation and Leiden Observatory. The lecture deals with an astronomical subject of current interest and is intended for a mixed audience with a general interest in astronomy.