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The Universe Tonight

Mar 2, 2013 6:00pm
Hoku Ke'a


Dr. Rene Pierre Martin


“The Magnificent Barred Spiral Galaxies”


Among the family of spiral galaxies seen in our Universe, a large fraction shows an elongated, stellar structure in their central regions commonly described as a “bar”. These magnificent objects, named barred spirals, represent the norm and not the exception among all of nearby spiral galaxies.  More than just a morphological description, the bar phenomenon has drastic effects on the evolution of a galaxy, from changing where stars are formed, to how the chemical elements are distributed across its disk, and to possibly helping in feeding its central region where a massive black hole might reside.

In this presentation, we will review some of the early history of observations of spiral galaxies, including some of the first descriptions of galaxies with bars. Then we will review how bars can be formed, how they evolve and how they might considerably affect the evolution of their host galaxies. We will also see that some galaxies have more than one bar and that our own Galaxy, the Milky Way, is in fact a barred spiral. Finally, we will briefly describe an ambitious project to be undertaken with an innovative instrument at CFHT on Mauna Kea next year, aiming in better understanding of the significance of bars in galaxies. But, maybe more importantly, we will show that barred spiral galaxies are among the most grandiose and beautiful objects in the Universe.


Dr. Pierre Martin is an Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy and the Director of the UH Hilo Hoku Ke'a Observatory on Mauna Kea. He earned his MS and PhD in astrophysics at Université Laval in Québec, Canada. He has held post-doctoral fellowship positions at Steward Observatory in Arizona, and with the European Southern Observatory New Technology Telescope in Chile. Between 1997 and 2008, Dr. Martin was a resident astronomer at the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope on Mauna Kea, and its Director of Science Operations for six years. Prior to joining UH-Hilo, he was the Executive Director of the WIYN 3.5m telescope on Kitt Peak (Arizona) and also a consultant for the Giant Magellan Telescope project.  Dr. Martin fields of research include the chemical evolution of galaxies, massive star formation, galaxy morphology, planetary nebulae, astronomical instrumentation and the optimization of the observational process for professional observatories.  As hobbies, he has been a rock music drummer for more than 35 years and is an amateur historian, specialized in WWII. He lives in Hilo with his wife Patricia and two spoiled cats, Socks and Smokey.


On the first Saturday of each month, the Visitor Information Station (VIS) hosts The Universe Tonight, a special presentation on the current research and discoveries occurring on Mauna Kea. The presentation begins at 6:00 PM and is followed by the regular evening stargazing program at the VIS.

The Universe Tonight typically features an astronomer from one of the observatories on Mauna Kea giving a presentation on recent observations and discoveries from their telescope. Observatories are on a rotating schedule. If you would like to know about upcoming presentations, please call the VIS at (808) 961-2180 during operational hours.

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