Dr. Alberto Bolatto
(University of Maryland)

University of Florida Astronomy Colloquium - Nov. 5, 2008

Molecular Clouds and Star Formation: Lessons from the Nearby Universe

The formation of structure in the universe is one of the major areas of research in modern Cosmology. In order to understand how primordial density fluctuations become observable structures in the present day universe it is crucial to characterize the processes that drive galaxy evolution. One of these major processes is star formation. This process takes place in Giant Molecular Clouds, the major reservoirs of molecular gas in galaxies. As such, their properties play a key role in setting the initial conditions for the formation of stars. There is also emerging evidence that their formation is the major regulating step in the process of turning gas into stars. I will discuss the results from a comprehensive combined far-infrared and interferometric/single-dish study of the resolved GMC properties in a number of extragalactic systems, including both normal and dwarf galaxies, and I will contrast the results of the spectroscopic and high-resolution far-infrared studies and what they tell use about molecular clouds in primitive galaxies and the relation between gas and the formation of stars. If time allows, I would like to also briefly discuss our new results on dust formation by supernovae, frequently assumed to be the major dust creation pathway in the early universe.