'Galaxies and Their Supermassive Black Holes' lecture set for Feb. 14

February 09, 2009

"Galaxies and Their Supermassive Black Holes" is a free public lecture that will be given on Feb. 14, 2009, by Michael Eracleous, associate professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State. The event is a Penn State component of the International Year of Astronomy and is the fourth of six lectures in the 2009 Penn State Lectures on the Frontiers of Science, a free minicourse for the general public with the theme "Our Universe: From the Big Bang to Life." No registration is required.  The lectures take place on six consecutive Saturday mornings from 11 a.m. to about 12:30 p.m. in 100 Thomas Building on the Penn State University Park campus.

Eracleous will describe how a galaxy's evolution determines the growth of the supermassive black hole that lurks in its heart, and also how the powerful black hole influences the evolution of its host galaxy. "In the past decade, it has become clear that most galaxies in the observable universe host supermassive black holes at their centers, and that the properties of these black holes are related to the properties of their galaxies," Eracleous said. "According to the latest observations and ideas, black holes form along with the galaxies themselves and grow by swallowing gas that is supplied to them during interactions and mergers with other galaxies. In turn, the black holes emit powerful radiation, winds and jets that profoundly influence the evolution of their host galaxies."

During his lecture, Eracleous will show how scientists are pairing theoretical models with observations from the most modern telescopes on the Earth and in space to crack the mystery of how different kinds of galaxies evolve from their birth to their present forms.

Eracleous' recent research is aimed at discovering the details of many of the mechanisms involved in the evolution of black holes at the centers of galaxies. In collaboration with colleagues and students at Penn State, he is studying the properties of winds emitted by a galaxy's central black hole, and the coordinated formation of stars in the galaxy. Through detailed theoretical modeling, his group also is working to devise strategies for observing black holes in crucial stages of their evolution. He observes these systems at optical wavelengths with telescopes on Earth -- including Penn State's Hobby-Eberly Telescope, at ultraviolet wavelengths with NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, and at X-ray wavelengths using data from other space-based instruments including Swift, a NASA observatory that is controlled by a Penn State team at Penn State's Mission Operations Center at University Park.

Eracleous received a bachelor's degree, as well as Associate status in the Royal College of Science, from Imperial College at the University of London in 1987. He received a master of arts degree in 1989, a master of philosophy degree in 1990, and a doctoral degree in 1992, all in physics at Columbia University. He was a postdoctoral researcher at the Space Telescope Science Institute from 1992 to 1995 and held a Hubble Fellowship at the University of California-Berkeley from 1995 to 1998 before joining the faculty at Penn State in 1998.

The Penn State Lectures on the Frontiers of Science are a program of the Penn State Eberly College of Science. For more information or access assistance, contact the Eberly College of Science Office of Media Relations and Public Information by telephone at (814) 863-0901, by e-mail at science@psu.edu. Information also is on the web at http://www.science.psu.edu/alert/frontiers/.

Last Updated March 19, 2009