The American Astronomical Society has awarded UW Astronomy Professor and Department Chair Julianne Dalcanton the 2018 Beatrice M. Tinsley Prize.
The AAS describes the prize as recognizing “contributions that are of an exceptionally creative or innovative character and that have played a seminal role in furthering our understanding of the universe.” Dr. Dalcanton was awarded the prize for her work on large surveys of low-surface-brightness galaxies and her use of the Hubble Space Telescope to create legacy datasets of resolved stellar populations in nearby galaxies.
On October 25, 2017, the first discovery of an interstellar object (ISO), 1I/’Oumuamua, was announced to the world after it was detected by the Pan-STARRS telescope in Maui, Hawaii. Initially, the object was thought to be a comet from the far reaches of the solar system in a region known as the Oort Cloud, where objects have extreme orbits that take them careening through the inner solar system at speeds exceeding 60 km/s, too high to be bound to our solar system. Additional obs
ervations also showed that it was not cometary, but instead appeared more like an asteroid.
Soon after the Minor Planet Center’s official announcement of 1I, a group of astronomers at the University of Washington — Bryce Bolin (also at B612 Asteroid Institute), Lynne Jones, Daniela Huppenkothen, Joachim Moeyens, Mario Jurić, Željko Ivezić and Andrew Connolly — teamed up with researchers Hal Weaver and Carey Lisse at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and Yan Fernandez from the University of Central Florida, and rapidly obtained observations at the Apache Point 3.5 m telescope in Sunspot, New Mexico.
The team observed 1I in the New Mexico desert skies, imaging it in three different color filters and obtaining measurements covering a 4-hour lightcurve. The photometric data revealed that 1I had a likely rotation period of ~8.1 hours and an unusually high aspect ratio ~6:1. This aspect ratio revealed that the object is shaped like a fingerling potato. In addition, photometric color measurements implied that 1I has surface similar to primitive C and D type asteroids from the asteroid Main Belt and Jupiter Trojan swarms. These results are in agreement with several independent studies of 1I by groups at the University of Hawaii, University of California, Los Angeles and Queen’s University Belfast. The UW results have been accepted to the Astrophysical Journal Letters (Bolin et al., “APO Time Resolved Color Photometry of Highly-Elongated Interstellar Object 1I/’Oumuamua”), with a preprint available on the arXiv.
A full description of the work by UW astronomers is available on the Dirac website.
UW Astronomy’s DIRAC Institute hosted the first ADAM HackDays (October 4-5, 2017). ADAM (Asteroid Decision and Analysis Machine) is a project led by B612’s Asteroid Institute, aiming to better understand threats and opportunities coming from asteroids in the Solar System. ADAM will be a cloud-based system for large-scale precise integration and analysis of trajectories of asteroids, especially those that are potentially hazardous to Earth. The HackDays brought together DIRAC researchers, Asteroid Institute Fellows, and community supporters for a first ADAM team meeting and two days of hacking on ADAM code.
Sarah Tuttle recently joined the UW Astronomy Department as an Assistant Professor, and is head of UW’s new Space & Ground Instrumentation Laboratory. In her own words:
“I am primarily an instrumental astrophysicist working on novel hardware approaches, and build spectrographs to study the physical processes of galaxies. I’m interested in isolating processes in galaxies that regulate star formation, especially in trying to detect emission and infall from the inter- and circumgalactic medium. I’m leading a new spectrograph project for Apache Point Observatory to update our spectrographic capabilities. I’ve built instruments for ground based telescopes as well as for balloon-borne telescopes. I’m also deeply invested in understanding how societal systemic biases (like racism and sexism) distort our scientific work, and am working to address those biases in hiring and beyond.”
Q & A
What got you into astronomy?
I really love to look up. I like figuring out how things work. Knowing more about how our universe fits together only makes me more passionate about the work that I do.
What do you find most challenging and rewarding about being an astronomer?
My job is different every single day. I remember being younger and having a job that was somewhat repetitive, and swearing that when I “grew up” I’d do something that wasn’t repetitive at all. It may be a case of “Be careful what you wish for.” I love the mix of activities – from being in the lab, or at the telescope, to teaching and giving public outreach lectures, to sitting down working through the literature, and working with students as they discover the joys (and occasional pains) of research.
What is your favourite aspect about Seattle?
It is a close tie between Mount Rainier looming on the horizon, and the Space Needle. The Space Needle just resonates for me, both on the aesthetic front, and on the awesome engineering front. I hear they used to have an annual pass, which I’m sad no longer exists. If it did, I’d probably go hang out on the observation deck and work while the world drifted by.