Prof. Vikki Meadows Featured in The Atlantic

When Victoria Meadows needs to ponder life on distant planets, she surrounds herself with earthly vegetation.

“Being in nature kind of drops you into a different state of thinking,” said Meadows, who heads NASA’s Virtual Planetary Laboratory and has been awarded the 2018 Drake Award for her contributions to the search for extraterrestrial life.

Read the full article in The Atlantic.

UW Undergraduate Tyler Valentine Named Goldwater Scholar

Three University of Washington undergraduates are among 211 students nationwide named as 2018 Goldwater Scholars. The Barry Goldwater Scholarships are awarded to students who have outstanding potential and plan to pursue research careers in mathematics, natural sciences or engineering. Tyler Valentine, who is from Washington, is majoring in Astronomy, Earth and space sciences. He plans to pursue a doctorate in space science and engineering focused on using the resources of near-Earth space.

Read the full story at UW News.

Graduate Student Kathryn Neugent Discovers Rare Runaway Star

UW graduate student Kathryn Neugent is lead author on a new paper describing the discovery of a yellow supergiant star in the Small Magellanic Cloud that is moving at a whopping 300,000 miles an hour. From the Lowell Observatory press release:

The runaway star (designated J01020100-7122208) is located in the Small Magellanic Cloud, a close neighbor of the Milky Way Galaxy, and is believed to have once been a member of a binary star system. When the companion star exploded as a supernova, the tremendous release of energy flung J01020100-7122208 into space at its high speed. The star is the first runaway yellow supergiant star ever discovered, and only the second evolved runaway star to be found in another galaxy.

Read the full story at Newsweek or UW News.

Prof. Andy Connolly Appointed to JHU Society of Scholars

UW Astronomy Professor Andy Connolly has been appointed to the Johns Hopkins University Society of Scholars. The Society of Scholars, established in 1967, inducts former postdoctoral fellows, postdoctoral degree recipients, house staff, and junior or visiting faculty who have gained marked distinction in their respective fields.

Professor Connolly leads the development of simulations for the upcoming Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, and is the creator of Google Sky.

Prof. Jessica Werk Awarded Sloan Fellowship

Five faculty members at the University of Washington have been awarded early-career fellowships from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, including Jessica Werk, assistant professor of astronomy.

Werk is a kind of galaxy historian, studying matter on atomic scales to help understand how galaxies — and the universe as a whole — evolve. By aiming giant telescopes at the night’s sky, she uses spectrographs to study atoms billions of light years away. Werk looks at the distinction between subatomic particles that exist both outside and inside galaxies. The outcome, she hopes, will help elucidate a better understanding of our own cosmic origins.

“When I look at the sky I see lots of different atomic transitions that I’m trying to piece together into a coherent picture,” said Werk.

Read the full article at UW News.

Prof. Julianne Dalcanton Awarded Beatrice Tinsley Prize

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.

UW Astronomers Observe Interstellar Asteroid

Concept art of 1I/’Oumuamua. Credit: M. Kornmesser/ESO

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.

Sequence of APO observations of 1I/’Oumuamua (click through for animated gif)

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.

Giant black hole pair photobombs Andromeda Galaxy

Chandra X-ray Observatory data for J0045+41 (inset, blue region) in the context of optical images of Andromeda from the Hubble Space Telescope. (NASA/CXC/University of Washington/ESA)

It seems like even black holes can’t resist the temptation to insert themselves unannounced into photographs. A cosmic photobomb found as a background object in images of the nearby Andromeda galaxy has revealed what could be the most tightly coupled pair of supermassive black holes ever seen.

As they report in a paper published online Nov. 20 in The Astrophysical Journal, astronomers from the University of Washington made this discovery using X-ray data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and optical data from two ground-based telescopes, Gemini-North in Hawaii and the Palomar Transient Factory in California.

Read the full story at UW News, and a post by Trevor Dorn-Wallenstein on the Chandra blog.

Zwicky Transient Facility Sees First Light

ZTF first light image
The first image produced by the Zwicky Transient Facility, of the Orion Nebula.

On Nov. 14, scientists with the California Institute of Technology, the University of Washington and eight additional partner institutions, announced that the Zwicky Transient Facility, the latest sensitive tool for astrophysical observations in the Northern Hemisphere, has seen “first light” and took its first detailed image of the night sky.

When fully operational in 2018, the ZTF will scan almost the entire northern sky every night. Based at the Palomar Observatory in southern California and operated by Caltech, the ZTF’s goal is to use these nightly images to identify “transient” objects that vary between observations — identifying events ranging from supernovae millions of light years away to near-Earth asteroids.

Read the full article at UW News.