UW News

DIRAC Institute

May 31, 2022

UW-developed, cloud-based astrodynamics platform to discover and track asteroids

A novel algorithm developed by University of Washington researchers to discover asteroids in the solar system has proved its mettle. The first candidate asteroids identified by the algorithm — known as Tracklet-less Heliocentric Orbit Recovery, or THOR — have been confirmed by the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center, according to a May 31 announcement by the B612 Foundation.

May 4, 2022

Astronomers discover a rare ’black widow’ binary, with the shortest orbit yet

The flashing of a nearby star drew the attention of a team of astronomers, who discovered that it is part of a rare and mysterious system. As they report in a paper published May 4 in Nature, the stellar oddity appears to be a “black widow binary” — a type of system consisting of a rapidly spinning neutron star, or pulsar, that is circling and slowly consuming a smaller companion star, as its arachnid namesake does to its mate.

April 22, 2022

Heavens need environmental protection just like Earth, experts say

Space urgently needs special legal protection similar to that given to land, sea and atmosphere to protect its fragile environment, argues a team of scientists. The scientific, economic and cultural benefits of space should be considered against the damaging environmental impacts posed by an influx of space debris — roughly 60 miles above Earth’s surface — fueled by the rapid growth of so-called satellite mega-constellations. In a paper published April 22 in Nature Astronomy, the authors assert that space is an important environment to preserve on behalf of professional astronomers, amateur stargazers and Indigenous peoples.

February 9, 2022

New IAU center to focus on solutions to satellite interference in astronomical observations

The International Astronomical Union has launched the Centre for the Protection of the Dark and Quiet Sky from Satellite Constellation Interference to coordinate collaborative multidisciplinary international efforts with institutions and individuals — including researchers at the University of Washington’s DiRAC Institute — to help mitigate the negative impacts of satellite constellations on ground-based optical and radio astronomy observations as well as humanity’s enjoyment of the night sky.

August 25, 2021

UW, Carnegie Mellon to pioneer platforms that harness astrophysical data to unravel the universe’s mysteries

An image of the focal plane of a camera used for astrophysical observations of the cosmos

The University of Washington and Carnegie Mellon University have announced an expansive, multi-year collaboration to create new software platforms to analyze large astronomical datasets generated by the upcoming Legacy Survey of Space and Time, or LSST, which will be carried out by the Vera C. Rubin Observatory in northern Chile. The open-source platforms are part of the new LSST Interdisciplinary Network for Collaboration and Computing — known as LINCC — and will fundamentally change how scientists use modern computational methods to make sense of big data.

August 5, 2021

Superflares may be less harmful to exoplanets than previously thought, study shows

an artists depiction of a small star with a planet orbiting it

Astronomers have long suspected that superflares, extreme radiation bursts from stars, can cause lasting damage to the atmospheres — and thus habitability — of exoplanets. A new study published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society reports that they pose only a limited danger to planetary systems.

October 24, 2019

NSF invests in cyberinfrastructure institute to harness cosmic data

the stars at night

The National Science Foundation awarded the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and nine collaborating organizations, including the University of Washington, $2.8 million for a two-year “conceptualization phase” of the Scalable Cyberinfrastructure Institute for Multi-Messenger Astrophysics.

February 7, 2019

All the data in the sky, alerted via UW eyes

An image of a galaxy.

The Zwicky Transient Facility, based at the Palomar Observatory, has identified over a thousand new objects and phenomena in the night sky, including more than 1,100 new supernovae and 50 near-Earth asteroids. University of Washington scientists are part of the ZTF team and led the development of the collaboration’s alert system, which informs science teams of possible new objects or changes to known objects in the sky.

August 23, 2018

Hack week: Study supports collaborative, participant-driven approach for researchers to learn data science from their peers

Scientists working together on computer projects.

A team from the University of Washington, New York University and the University of California, Berkeley has developed an interactive workshop in data science for researchers at multiple stages of their careers. The course format, called “hack week,” blends elements from both traditional lecture-style pedagogy with participant-driven projects.

November 14, 2017

With launch of new night sky survey, UW researchers ready for era of ‘big data’ astronomy

The first astronomers had a limited toolkit: their eyes. They could only observe those stars, planets and celestial events bright enough to pick up unassisted. But today’s astronomers use increasingly sensitive and sophisticated instruments to view and track a bevy of cosmic wonders, including objects and events that were too dim or distant for their…