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The history of the universe in fifty minutes

Rob Thacker will attempt to compress 13.7 billion years into 50 minutes Friday night.

Rob Thacker will attempt to compress 13.7 billion years into 50 minutes Friday night.

After an evening of astronomers “busking” on the street with a free telescope display, the Saint Mary’s astrophysics professor will give a public talk tracing the big bang origins of our universe up to the formation of galaxies and beyond.

He even has a nifty computer simulation of what it’s going to look like when our beloved Milky Way has a head-on collision with the Andromeda galaxy.

Fortunately, when our galaxy smacks into our neighbour, we won’t notice it. That’s partially because it won’t happen for three billion years. Still, the vastness of space will ensure there’s plenty of room for our descendants to survive. Probably.

Thacker will also talk about the advances in the computers we use to study the universe. Computer power has grown by a factor of one million in the last 30 years.

“There’s no other realm of human endeavour where I think that’s true,” he said. If it continues at that pace, computers will have the processing power of the human brain by 2040.

“It’s a little bit scary,” he said. “The question ‘Is Data alive?’ from Star Trek could conceivably be something we could have to look at in our lifetimes.”

In studying the stars, we are studying ourselves, Thacker said.

“We are all stardust. The atoms in your body have been through the centre of a star: That profoundly connects you to what’s up there.”

Friday’s events are part of the International Year of Astronomy. The telescopes will be in front of SMU’s Sobey building beginning at 6 p.m. and there will be a tour of the university’s observatory after the lecture. The lecture is at 7:30 p.m. in the Scotiabank Theatre. Go to Astronomynovascotia.com for details.

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