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Wednesday, 28 September 2016, 1:00PM - 2:00PM
Museum of London

Black Holes

Professor Joseph Silk FRS


Supermassive  black  holes  lurk  in  the  very  centres  of  galaxies. The  Milky  Way  has  a  central black hole of four million solar masses. Today it is quiescent. But we have reason to believe that  millions  of  years  ago  it  was  active.  Traces  of  exploded  debris  are  seen  around  our galactic  centre  that  arose  in  a  violent  explosion  some  tens  of  millions  of  years  ago.  Most galaxies  have  massive  central  black  holes,  in  some  cases  weighing  billions  of  solar  masses. These once were the sites of the  most energetic phenomena in the universe, that astronomers recognise  as  quasars.  I  will  describe  feeding  the  monster  within:  the  rise  of  the  quasars,  and how  supermassive  black  holes  formed  long  ago. These  immensely  luminous  objects  in  the nuclei  of  galaxies  were  active  when  the  universe  was  young.  Current  data  suggests  that supermassive  black  holes  formed  along  with  the  first  galaxies.  The  ultimate  window  on building  massive black holes  is  gravity  waves, and I  will  describe  gravity  wave  experiments being planned to search for traces of the formation of such black holes.

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Gresham Professor of Astronomy, Joseph Silk FRS, is a research scientist at the Institut d’Astrophysique, Sorbonne University, Paris,  Homewood Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, and Senior Fellow in the Beecroft Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology at the Department of Physics, University of Oxford. He is a leading expert on the early Universe, a Balzan Prize winner and one of the world’s most sought-after science communicators.

A graduate of the Universities of Cambridge and Harvard, Professor Silk was a postdoctoral fellow at Cambridge and Princeton before joining the University of California, Berkeley, where he remained for the next three decades, eventually as Professor of Astronomy and Physics. He was Savilian Chair of Astronomy at the University of Oxford from 1999 to September 2011. He started his current positions of Professor of Physics and Astronomy with the Johns Hopkins University in 2010, and Professor of Physics at the Institut d’Astrophysique at UPMC in 2011.

Professor Silk is one of the world’s leading experts in theoretical cosmology, dark matter, galaxy formation and cosmic microwave background. He conducted important early work on homogeneities in the cosmic microwave background and how they are influenced by density fluctuations in the matter of the early universe, in particular by a damping effect that has become known as “Silk damping”. He has also made pioneering advances in understanding the nature of dark matter, and explored novel indirect methods for its detection which have inspired large-scale experiments with newly-developed telescopes. Professor Silk’s studies of galaxy formation and his work on the dynamics of mass loss and the feedback mechanisms from star formation and evolution formed a highly significant basis for subsequent work in this important field. In 2011 he won the Balzan Prize for this pioneering work on the infant universe.

Having delivered some of the most important invited astronomy lectures around the globe and with over 500 publications to his name, Professor Silk is one of the world’s foremost science communicators. His books include: The Big Bang, Horizons of Cosmology, The Infinite Cosmos, On the Shores of the Unknown, A Short History of the Universe and Cosmic Enigmas.

Appointed Gresham Professor of Astronomy in 2015, Professor Silk will deliver series of lectures, entitled The Biggest Questions in the Universe, on aspects of astronomy and cosmology which he believes will offer new insights into contemporary investigations into the nature of the Universe, its formation and phenomenon.

All of Joseph Silk's Gresham Lectures can be accessed here

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28 September 2016

Black Holes
Professor Joseph Silk FRS

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