The 2011 series of public lectures at the University of Arizona College of Science is on a subject as vast as the universe.

In fact, it is on the universe - the cosmos - as recorded by our most powerful and sensitive scientific instruments and interpreted by the minds of some of the UA's deepest thinkers, with a couple of visiting scholars thrown in.

"There will be some unusual perspectives," promises astronomer Christopher D. Impey, starting with Brother Guy Consolmagno of the Vatican Observatory.

Consolmagno, a working astronomer and a Jesuit brother, will speak about the way in which our nonscientific views of the cosmos influence our science, and how science contributes to our cultural views of the origin and nature of the universe.

Consolmagno, an author, blogger and BBC radio personality, will speak on Feb. 1, a Tuesday, in the first of six lectures, all on Tuesday evenings at 7 p.m. at the UA's Centennial Hall.

Next up is Impey, deputy head of the astronomy department. Impey is a cosmologist and astrophysicist, and the author of several books.

Impey will speak on the Big Bang that kicked off the evolution of the universe 17.5 billion years ago. It is a theory he considers "as well-established as Darwinian evolution. I'll present the evidence," he said.

After Impey explains how "an iota" of dense matter became 80 billion galaxies with 100 trillion trillion stars, he'll let cosmologist Michael S. Turner explain what makes up the parts of the cosmos that aren't made of "star stuff."

Turner, director of the Kavli Institute for Cosmology at the University of Chicago, will take on the less settled theories of dark energy and dark matter, concepts proposed to explain the inexplicable inflation of the universe.

The following week, UA astronomer Philip Pinto will talk about what happened after the Big Bang, how the hydrogen and helium produced initially was transformed by the nuclear fission of stars into heavier elements and the building blocks of life.

UA astronomer Feryal Özel will talk about gravity and, in particular, its role in creating extreme phenomena - neutron stars and super-massive black holes. There has been a revolution in our understanding of things such as black holes, Impey said. They are no longer some theoretical construct, but a measurable and measured phenomenon that is a favorite subject for Ozel's extreme astrophysics research group.

Finally, Carolyn Porco, formerly of the UA and now the imaging leader for the NASA's Cassini mission to Saturn, will speak on the most intriguing question of all: Is there life out there, and might it exist in some form in our own solar system?

Contact reporter Tom Beal at or 573-4158.