UW News

Department of Astronomy

March 4, 2014

‘Dimer molecules’ aid study of exoplanet pressure, hunt for life

An artist's concept of an exoplanet, or planet outside the solar system.

UW astronomers have developed a new method of gauging the atmospheric pressure of exoplanets, or worlds beyond the solar system, by looking for a certain type of molecule. And if there is life out in space, it may one day be revealed by this method.

March 3, 2014

UW astronomer Eric Agol’s seven-planet system part of major NASA discovery

An artist's illustration of multiple-transiting planet systems. The planets eclipse or transit their host star from the vantage point of the observer.

UW astronomer Eric Agol played a key role in the windfall of 715 new exoplanets recently announced by NASA. Agol was on a team that found seven of those worlds, all in orbit around the same star.

January 8, 2014

Astronomers measure far-off galaxies to 1 percent precision

An artist's concept of the latest, highly accurate measurement of the universe from the Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey. The spheres show the current size of the "baryon acoustic oscillations" from the early universe, which now can be used as a "standard ruler" (white line) to measure the distances to all the galaxies in the universe.

University of Washington astronomers and colleagues have measured the distance to galaxies six billion light-years away — about halfway back to the Big Bang — to an accuracy of just 1 percent.

December 9, 2013

Astronomers solve temperature mystery of planetary atmospheres

The sun is just below the horizon in this photo and creates an orange-red glow above the Earth's surface, which is the troposphere, or lowest layer of the atmosphere. The tropopause is the brown line along the upper edge of the troposphere. Above both are the stratosphere, higher atmospheric layers, and the blackness of space.

An atmospheric peculiarity the Earth shares with Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune is likely common to billions of planets, University of Washington astronomers have found, and knowing that may help in the search for potentially habitable worlds.

November 25, 2013

Study: Greenhouse gas might have warmed early Mars enough to allow liquid water


The mystery of how the surface of Mars, long dead and dry, could have flowed with water billions of years ago may have been solved by research that included a University of Washington astronomer.

July 29, 2013

Planetary ‘runaway greenhouse’ more easily triggered, research shows

A view of the surface of Venus from NASA's Magellan mapping spacecraft.

It might be easier than previously thought for a planet to overheat into the uninhabitable “runaway greenhouse” stage, according to new research.

July 18, 2013

A warmer planetary haven around cool stars, as ice warms rather than cools

This artist's concept illustrates a planet orbiting a red dwarf star.

In a bit of cosmic irony, planets orbiting cooler stars may be more likely to remain ice-free than planets around hotter stars. This is due to the interaction of a star’s light with ice and snow on the planet’s surface.

April 25, 2013

Astronomer studies far-off worlds through ‘characterization by proxy’

A dwarf galaxy.

A UW astronomer is using Earth’s interstellar neighbors to learn the nature of certain stars too far away to be directly measured or observed, and the planets they may host.

April 18, 2013

Astronomers discover five-planet system with most Earth-like exoplanet yet

Kepler 62e and 62f compared with the Earth. UW astronomer Eric Agol discovered 62f.

A University of Washington astronomer has discovered perhaps the most Earth-like planet yet found outside the solar system by the Kepler Space Telescope.

November 19, 2012

Can life emerge on planets around cooling stars?


UW astronomers find that planets orbiting white and brown dwarfs are unlikely to be good candidates for sustaining life.

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