This series consists of talks in the areas of Cosmology, Gravitation and Particle Physics.
The most fundamental assumption of the standard cosmological model (LambdaCDM) is that the Universe is homogeneous on large scales. This is not true on small scales, and some studies suggest that galaxies follow a fractal distribution up to very large scales (~200 h^{-1} Mpc or more), whereas ΛCDM predicts homogeneity at ~100 h^{-1} Mpc. We have tested this using the WiggleZ Dark Energy Survey, a UV-selected spectroscopic survey of ~200,000 luminous blue galaxies up to z=1, with the Anglo-Australian Telescope.
Groups and clusters of galaxies are the most massive gravitationally bound objects in the Universe. They are also the most recent cosmic objects to form. In the currently accepted models of cosmic structure formation, the number density distribution of the most massive of these systems, and how this has been changing with time, depend sensitively to the parameters describing the large-scale geometry and the expansion history of the universe.
Recent observations from three different astronomical surveys have revealed evidence for asymmetries about the Galactic midplane in the kinematics of solar neighborhood stars. These asymmetries appear, in part, as compression-rarefaction modes in the bulk motions of stars perpendicular to the midplane. I will discuss the hypothesis that these motions were caused by the recent passage of a satellite galaxy or dark matter subhalo through the Galactic disk.
The assumption of spatial homogeneity lies at the heart of the concordance cosmological model. But as I will discuss, truly solid empirical evidence for global (statistical) homogeneity is lacking, and tricky theoretical issues abound. I review a few recent advances in understanding the role inhomogeneity plays in cosmology, including some unexpected effects on light propagation, the death (and rebirth) of backreaction, and impending observational annoyances related to the lumpy local Universe.
One new frontier in cosmology is the frequency spectrum of the CMB. Future instruments may be precise enough to measure deviations from the nearly-perfect blackbody, measuring a chemical potential and thus probing energy injection at extremely high redshift. I will discuss ($\mu$ and $y$-type) CMB spectral distortions from the dissipation of entropy (isocurvature)-sourced acoustic modes. I will then discuss how a high-energy phase transition could also source such distortions.
The Planck satellite measurement of the cosmic microwave background has provided spectacular confirmation of the predictions of inflationary cosmology, putting inflation on a firm footing as the leading theory of the very early universe. I will discuss the implications of Planck for the simplest canonical single-field inflation models, which are favored by the data. Then I will discuss the most general question: How strong is the case that inflation is the "right" theory of the early universe?
The SDSS-III Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey, now nearly complete, is measuring the three-dimensional cosmic structure with 1.35 million new redshifts. Galaxy clustering measurements provide constraints on the cosmic expansion history through the baryon acoustic oscillation feature and the Alcock-Paczynski effect. In addition, the imprint of galaxy peculiar velocities on the observed galaxy clustering, "redshift-space distortions", provides a measurement of the growth rate of matter perturbations.
The Pan-STARRs supernova survey has discovered one of the largest samples of Type Ia supernovae. Measurements of the distances to these supernovae allow us to probe some of the most fundamental questions about the properties of the universe like what is dark energy. When combining measurements from various astrophysical probes, we find hints of interesting tension with the Lambda-CDM model. I discuss the various combinations of astrophysical probes and the source of this tension.
Direct observation of the small scale structure of matter in the Universe provides potentially important information about a wealth of physics, from complex galaxy evolution processes to fundamental particle properties of dark matter. Detecting this fine structure in dark matter, though, is notoriously difficult. Dark matter indirect detection--through observation of radiation products of particle annihilation--may be the most direct method for observing small scale structure.
Systems which contemplate the gravitational interaction between compact objects and the matter content in a cosmological environment constitute an important problem which has been studied since the early days of General Relativity. The generalized McVittie black hole is a simple exact solution to this problem, which provides us with insight on some of its known physical aspects, as well as hints to new mechanisms which arise from a formal treatment.