The Astronomy Department Website has moved. All new content will be posted there -- please update your bookmarks.

   astro pictures

Charles Simonyi: Practicalities of Orbital Space Tourism
As the UW Department of Astronomy celebrates our 50th Anniversary, join us in welcoming Dr. Charles Simonyi to the UW for an exciting talk on private space travel. Already acclaimed as a high-tech pioneer and philanthropist, Dr. Simonyi added space traveler to his résumé as one of the first private space tourists. Dr. Simonyi will discuss his experiences with orbital spaceflight in 2007 and 2009 and what this portends for future orbital space tourism. The event is free and open to the public through registration. Tuesday September 29, 2015 7pm Kane Hall 120.

The Big Bang and Beyond: Four excursions to the edges of time and space (UW Astro Dept 50th anniversary event)
The UW Astronomy Department and the UW Alumni Association present a series of four fall lectures that explore the newest understandings of the origins of the Universe and the observations that underlie them. The talks are presented by four outstanding mid-career faculty at a level appropriate for high school students. The four events, located at Kane 120, 7:30 PM, are: Oct 21 - “Unravelling our own cosmic history”, Nov 4 - “The end of the beginning", Nov 18 - “Building the universe, piece by piece", Dec 2 - “Before time, beyond the universe". (Free) tickets are required.

Origins: Life and the Universe (UW Astro Dept 50th anniversary event)
The UW Astronomy Department, the UW Astrobiology Program, Burmer Music, and the Composition Lab present a concert of original music called “Origins of the Universe: Life and the Universe” in Benroya Hall on Nov 7 at 2 PM. This live concert will feature Grammy-award winning conductor David Sabee, and the renowned NW Sinfonia orchestra. The concert pays tribute to some of the greatest discoveries made by space scientists. Eight Seattle composers will premiere original gorgeous orchestral music that showcases the complexity and beauty of our universe. The symphonic concert is accompanied by projected high-resolution movies created using some of the most spectacular imagery, videos, and conceptual art of the past two decades. For tickets please call 206-215-4747 or go to the Benaroya Hall Ticket Office web site (

Earth observations show how nitrogen may be detected on exoplanets, aiding search for life
VPL graduate student Edward Schwieterman, professor Victoria Meadows, and researchers Tyler Robinson, Amit Misra, and Shawn Domagal-Goldman have demonstrated that the collisional absorption signature of nitrogen gas can be detected in Earth’s disk-averaged spectrum and have modeled how it would appear on Earth-like exoplanets. Usually, nitrogen is considered an “invisible gas” because it lacks normal spectral features. Detection of nitrogen would provide a means to characterize the bulk atmosphere of potentially habitable exoplanets and constrain the likelihood of oxygen production by non-living processes.

UW astronomer, students report irregularities in ‘rare, exotic’ binary system
UW astronomers Breanna Binder and Ben Williams, along with the help of undergraduates Jacob Gross and Daniel Simons, were recently reminded that the diplomatic axiom to “trust, but verify” also applies to scientific inquiry when they analyzed fresh data from a distant galaxy. As they reported in July in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, a puzzling stellar phenomenon may not be what other astronomers had reported.

"Upside-down planet" reveals new method for studying binary star systems
Working with UW astronomer Eric Agol, doctoral student Ethan Kruse has confirmed the first “self-lensing” binary star system — one in which the mass of the closer star can be measured by how powerfully it magnifies light from its more distant companion star. Though our sun stands alone, about 40 percent of similar stars are in binary (two-star) or multi-star systems, orbiting their companions in a gravitational dance.

‘Dimer molecules’ aid study of exoplanet pressure, hunt for life
Astronomers at the University of Washington 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, scientists may one day use this same technique to detect its biosignature — the telltale chemical signs of its presence — in the atmosphere of an alien world. The method, devised by Amit Misra, a UW astronomy doctoral student, and co-authors, involves computer simulations of the chemistry of Earth’s own atmosphere that isolate what are called “dimer molecules” — pairs of molecules that tend to form at high pressures and densities in a planet’s atmosphere.

UW astronomer Eric Agol’s seven-planet system part of major NASA discovery
University of Washington astronomer Eric Agol played a key role in the windfall of 715 new exoplanets announced by NASA Feb. 26. Agol was on a team that found seven of those worlds, all in orbit around the same star, Kepler-90. It’s the first planetary system with seven planets seen to transit, or cross in front of their host star.

Astronomers solve temperature mystery of planetary atmospheres
University of Washington (UW) researchers Tyler Robinson and David Catling have found an atmospheric peculiarity Earth shares with Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune is likely common to billions of planets, and knowing that may help in the search of potentially habitable worlds. Earth and other solar system worlds have a tropopause, or level where the atmosphere stops cooling and begins heating up, at or near 0.1 bars. Using an analytic model, Robinson and Catling show that at high altitudes atmospheres become transparent to thermal radiation due to the low pressure. Above the level where the pressure is about 0.1 bar, the absorption of visible, or ultraviolet, light causes the atmospheres of the giant planets — and Earth and Titan — to grow warmer as altitude increases.

'Runaway greenhouse' may be easier to trigger than previously thought
According to a study published July 28 in Nature Geoscience, astronomers at the University of Washington and the University of Victoria say that it may be easier than previously thought for a planet to overheat during the so-called "runaway greenhouse" stage. This discovery does not bode well for some planets that are currently labeled as 'possibly habitable' as their suitability for such consideration may be revoked.

College of Arts & Sciences logo   
Contact the webmaster at bbinder <at> astro <dot> washington <dot> edu   
University of Washington Website Terms and Conditions of Use
University of Washington Online Privacy Statement