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James Esdaile

As astronomers we can take advantage of the finite speed of light to probe different epochs of the Universe and see how galaxies evolve over cosmic time. Galaxy evolution occurs over timescales much greater than the career of an astronomer and so even though we can see through time, we only see snap shots of different galaxies at different times. The challenge then is to find a way of linking galaxies in the past to the ones we see in the local Universe today in order to truly understand how galaxies evolve.

Recently, surveys of very distant galaxies have shown a new class of galaxy never before seen. These galaxies are as massive as our own Milky Way galaxy, but are fully formed in only 1 billion years (less than a tenth of the age of the Universe). What is even more surprising is that these galaxies have stopped forming stars and have thus reached their end stage of their life cycle. Such massive and quiescent galaxies show that the process of galaxy formation can unfold extremely rapidly in the early Universe. These rare, massive quiescent galaxies are not reproduced in the most cutting edge cosmological simulations of galaxies. They challenge our fundamental understanding of galaxy formation and evolution. How do these galaxies form and quiesce so quickly, and how do they evolve into the types of galaxies we see in the local Universe? These are the questions I hope to address in my research.

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