It isn’t often that our Capital Science Evening speaker hints at soon-to-be-breaking news right from the stage.

Tuesday night, Pierre Cox, Director of the Atacama Large Milimiter/submillimeter Array, a collection of 66 radio telescopes commonly known as ALMA, let the audience know that his organization would be releasing hot news about ancient galaxies the following day.

Or, rather, cold news.

As Cox taught us during his lecture, ALMA is particularly suited to imaging the so-called “cold universe,” where star formation is fueled by cold gas. This phenomenon is invisible to optical telescopes.

It turns out ALMA’s amazing array of antenna dishes in Chile’s Atacama Desert is perfect for observing all sorts of exciting celestial marvels—like planet-forming disks surrounding young stars, stellar nurseries, and black holes. Cox even let us in on ALMA’s future plans to image the black hole at the center of our own Milky Way galaxy. We can hardly wait to see those results!

But the audience was most eager to learn about how ALMA is probing all the way back to our cosmic origins in the universe’s earliest period of star and galaxy formation.

“We are currently able to really probe into the early universe and understand how galaxies were formed,” Cox said, showing images from “when the universe was very, very, very young.”

Which brings us back to that breaking news—it turns out that ALMA has observed “a huge mass of glowing stardust” from the ancient universe. They announced the finding Wednesday morning.  

Dust was, in fact, a favorite subject of Cox’s throughout the night, probably because cold dust is another specialty of ALMA’s and studying it is absolutely crucial to understanding the cooling and chemistry that produces ice and, eventually, planets.

During the Q&A after his presentation, Cox joked with an audience member that “the composition of the dust is very complex” but “it’s not very far away from what you are dusting in your own home.” Cox added that he “could give a whole hour talk about what dust is.”

Where do we sign up to attend?

If you want to see the slides from Pierre Cox's presentation, click here.

Scientific Area: