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.


DIRAC-B612 ADAM HackDays

Participants in the B612 ADAM HackDay
Participants in the B612 ADAM HackDay

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.

By teaching computers to track asteroids, UW scientists may save the Earth

Andrew Connolly, left, director of DIRAC, a new institute for intensive survey astrophysics at the University of Washington, and Zeljko Ivezic, a professor of astronomy and a key player in the development of software for the LSST telescope in Chile, stand in the planetarium at the UW. They’re involved in a major project to create a map of all the asteroids in our solar system, and to figure out which ones might pose a danger to Earth. (Ellen M. Banner/The Seattle Times)

Andrew Connolly and Zeljko Ivezic, two UW Astronomy professors, were recently featured in a Seattle Times article. See excerpt below, and read more here at the Seattle Times article by Katherine Long.

Scientists at the University of Washington are writing computer algorithms that could one day save the world — and that’s no exaggeration.

Working away in the university’s quiet Physics/Astronomy building, these scientists are teaching computers how to sift through massive amounts of data to identify asteroids on a collision course with Earth.

Together with 60 colleagues at six other universities, the 20 UW scientists are part of a massive new data project to catalog space itself, using the largest digital camera ever made.


Reaching for the Stars — and Exoplanets

Lupita Tovar will join the UW Astronomy graduate program in the fall.

The College of Arts and Sciences recently featured Lupita Tovar, a UW undergraduate, Pre-MAP alum, and incoming Astronomy & Astrobiology graduate student. See an excerpt of the Perspectives Newsletter below, and read the full article here.

Lupita Tovar’s life hasn’t gone as planned.

The first in her extended family to finish high school, Tovar never expected to go on to a four-year college. She never imagined majoring in astronomy and physics, participating in research, presenting at conferences, or being published in academic journals. She assumed study abroad was for other students. Being honored as one of the Husky 100 and accepted to PhD programs? Unthinkable.

Yet as a UW undergraduate, Tovar has done all those things and more. After graduation, she will continue at the UW as a PhD student in astronomy and astrobiology.


UW postdoctoral researcher Jamie Lomax studies stars, using polarimetry and coronagraphy to find stellar companions, to identify planet-forming disks, and to understand mass loss from stellar winds.

On an ordinary day, UW postdoctoral researcher Jamie Lomax studies stars, using polarimetry and coronagraphy to find stellar companions, to identify planet-forming disks, and to understand mass loss from stellar winds.

She also recently created the cutting-edge field of arachnoastronomy with the help of Twitter.

A few tweets about a spider problem in her office and some resulting experiments with getting them to follow laser pointers led to a unique science exchange on social media. Astronomers and spider researchers enthusiastically converged and ultimately determined that some species of spider are capable of their own brand of star-gazing, able to see the moon, the Magellanic Clouds, and even the Andromeda Galaxy.

Read the full story “Jumping Spiders Can See the Moon” via The Atlantic.

UW Astronomy featured in Wired Magazine article about Coding in Astronomy

From “For Modern Astronomers, It’s Learn to Code or Get Left Behind.” [Image credit Getty Images.]
Past and current members of the UW Astronomy Department were recently featured in a Wired Magazine article about Coding in Astronomy:

“Back when telescopes produced less data, astronomers could get by on teaching themselves. “The old model was you go to your telescope—or you log in remotely because you’re fancy—you get your data, you download it on your computer, you make a plot, you write a paper, and you’re a scientist,” says Rawls, who is now a postdoc at the University of Washington. “Now, it’s not practical to download all the data.” And “a plot” is laughable. You just try using graph paper to nail down the correlation function that shows the distribution of millions of galaxies (go ahead; I’ll wait).”

Read the full text on “For Modern Astronomers, it’s Learn to Code or Get Left Behind” via Wired. The article features UW astro alum Walkowicz, current members Rawls & Moeyens, LSST, and E-Science.

Outreach for the stars: UW Planetarium brings astronomy education to kids of all ages

Dr. Ana Larson, a senior lecturer in astronomy, operates software inside the UW planetarium, which enables people to explore the night sky on campus.

Every Friday they gather. They collect at the foot of the astronomy building’s pendulum and wait for an eager volunteer to guide them into the darkness. They are old, young, and middle-aged, but above all else they are enthusiastic.

The audience steps into a round dome, where the seats are designed to look up, not forward. The lights dim, the planetarium’s seven computers hum to life, and on the ceiling, stuff appears.

What is that stuff? And how did it come to be there?

Read more at The Daily here.

Graduate student John Ruan named recipient of Dan David Prize Scholarship

UW graduate student John Ruan studies “changing-look” quasars, a new class of objects in time-domain astronomy.

UW Astronomy graduate student John Ruan was recently announced as a forthcoming recipient of a 2017 Dan David Prize Scholarship, an international award for advanced doctoral students or postdoctoral researchers excelling in achievement and promise. John was selected for a Dan David Prize Scholarship’s “Future Time Dimension” award, which this year is aimed at the field of astronomy. John’s research scholarship at UW has emphasized studies of quasars in the burgeoning field of time-domain astronomy, including recent advances in discoveries of rare “changing-look” quasars that may represent a surprisingly rapid flickering- or fading-stage of accreting, supermassive black holes.

Prof. Emily Levesque receives Sloan Fellowship for outstanding early-career research

Professor Emily Levesque was awarded the 2017 Sloan Research Fellowship in recognition of her outstanding research and contributions to the field.

Astronomy professor Emily Levesque was awarded an early-career fellowship from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The Sloan Research fellowships “seek to stimulate fundamental research by early-career scientists and scholars of outstanding promise.” Prof. Levesque is a stellar astrophysicist whose research focuses on massive stars; she has recently discovered a new type of hybrid star, called a Thorne-Zytkow object. Congratulations, Emily!

Seattle astronomer Woodruff Sullivan searches for life in the stars

University of Washington professor emeritus Woodruff T. “Woody” Sullivan III is the co-author of research that calculated the odds that humans have been the only technologically capable life in the universe. (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times)

LIKE MANY AN astronomer before him, Woodruff T. “Woody” Sullivan III works at night. All night, usually. While much of the world around him is sucked into vapid prime-time game shows and other distractions, Sullivan’s brain is freed to roam in the enveloping silence, unleashed to dance with stars far beyond. […]

Read more of the article on Woodruff Sullivan, a UW emeritus professor in Astronomy and Astrobiology, at The Seattle Times.