IAU Symposium 303: The Galactic Center

Scientists are currently are at a crossroads in Galactic center research. Many recent large-scale surveys and wide-field studies of this unique and unusual region of the Galaxy have been made (using Chandra, HST/NICMOS, Spitzer, Fermi and numerous ground based observatories). Such surveys have provided us with multi-wavelength views of the stellar and interstellar environment in the central few hundred parsecs; additional surveys (filling in the gaps in the electromagnetic spectrum) are underway or being planned (EVLA, ALMA, Herschel, SOFIA, Planck, etc.). At the same time, unprecedented high-resolution views of the very central nuclear region are being constructed using the largest and most powerful telescopes on the ground (VLT-I, Keck, VLBA, EHT) providing us more details than ever before on the stellar population and the immediate environment of the 4 million solar mass black hole, SgrA*.

Many of the large- and small-scale phenomena observed are due to the influx of gas from the outer parts of the Galaxy and the feedback of energetic processes in the interstellar environment. Whereas the gas that resides in the Galactic Center represents about 10% of the the gas involved in star formation in the Galaxy, it only occurs in about 0.001% of the Galaxy’s volume. It is likely that this gas has funneled to its present location during episodes in the lifetime of our Galaxy’s bar. The gas in the Galactic Center is characterized by very high densities and turbulent conditions. The multi-phase gas is subject to strong and weak shocks as well as heating via dust, UV photons, cosmic rays and cloud-cloud collisions, all embedded within a strong and widespread magnetic field. Understanding the details of the interplay between stars and the interstellar medium and the role of cosmic rays in heating/interacting with the interstellar medium is crucial to our understanding of nuclear processes in many normal galaxies and in the cores of very distant galaxies.

During the meeting, we aim to bring together Galactic center researchers who are focused on trying to answer the following outstanding questions:

  • What are the detailed physical properties of the clouds in the Central Molecular Zone and what is the potential for forming stars in this environment?
  • What is the role of stellar feedback in our Galactic center and in starbursts?
  • How well do we understand the accretion processes around Sgr A*, and the inner pc’s of the Galactic center?
  • What tracers do we have of Sgr A*’s prior AGN-like history?   Are the Fermi bubbles related, or due to stellar processes?
  • What are we learning about the Galactic center environment from observations with new facilities such as ALMA, Fermi, NuSTAR, and new multiwavelength campaigns?