To the Frontiers of Cosmic Origins
Jonathan C. Tan (University of Florida)
We are in a golden age of exploration. This is an exploration not only of the astronomical constituents of our universe—galaxies, stars, black holes and planets—but also of the processes by which they came into being, starting from a cosmic void, filled only with primordial baryonic gas, radiation and (probably) dark matter. After a brief review of the physics of these formation processes, I discuss several open questions, highlighting how computational astrophysics is helping us interpret the growing complexity of observational data and leading to a transformation in our understanding by testing theoretical models. I focus on: How do galactic disks form their stellar populations? How do star clusters, including massive stars, condense from the interstellar medium? What are the progenitors of the supermassive black holes found in the centers of most large galaxies? What explains the presence of the multitudes of super-Earth mass planets now known to be orbiting closely around about half of all Sun-like stars?