DiRAC Hosted A Stellar Evening at the Planetarium

Last Wednesday, the UW planetarium became the epicenter of excitement and discovery, hosting an event that left attendees starry-eyed and inspired. The evening was filled with captivating presentations about current and anticipated discoveries with the Vera C. Rubin Observatory which is currently in the last phase of the construction in Chile.

As guests arrived, they were greeted by the DiRAC team. The lobby buzzed with conversations about the evening’s program. The event kicked off with a warm welcome from Prof. Mario Juric, DiRAC director, who highlighted the importance of community engagement in the pursuit of scientific knowledge. Followed by the latest updates from Prof. Zeljko Ivezic, Rubin Observatory Construction Project Director. Prof. Ivezic took to the stage to introduce this cutting-edge observatory, which promises to revolutionize our understanding of the universe. Equipped with the latest in telescope technology, this observatory will allow scientists to look deeper into space than ever before.

The Planetarium Experience

The highlight of the night was the planetarium experience led by Prof. Andy Connolly. The presentation detailed how the observatory’s advanced camera would enable the discovery, the study of distant galaxies, and the exploration of cosmic phenomena that have long puzzled astronomers. The audience was treated to stunning visuals of the observatory’s capabilities, and the excitement in the room was wonderful to experience.

Engaging Presentations

Following the planetarium show, a series of presentations captivated the audience. Each talk was a quick dive into one segment that Rubin will help us understand. Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) were the topic of this session. It was designed to educate and inspire. The audience was left in awe, with many expressing a newfound appreciation for the unknown of our universe.

Interactive Q&A Sessions

The event also featured interactive Q&A sessions, where attendees had the opportunity to ask questions and engage with the experts. These sessions sparked lively discussions and provided deeper insights into the topics covered. It was clear that the audience was eager to learn, with questions ranging from the technical aspects of the new observatory to the implications of recent discoveries.

Looking to the Future

We’d like to take this opportunity to thank again everyone for their participation and to emphasize the importance of public support for scientific endeavors and encouraged everyone to stay curious and engaged.

The planetarium event was more than just a series of presentations; it was a celebration of human curiosity and the relentless pursuit of knowledge. As guests departed, they carried with them not only a deeper understanding of the universe but also a sense of wonder and inspiration. The night was a testament to the power of education and the limitless possibilities that lie ahead as we continue to explore the cosmos.

Photo Credit: Bruno C. Quint

Letter From the Director

Prof. Mario Jurić

Welcome to DiRAC’s newsletter!

We are excited to share the latest updates and achievements from our incredible team. Your support makes our work and educational efforts possible, and we are deeply grateful for it.

Mark your calendars for June 12th! Join us for the DiRAC Planetarium Experience, where UW astronomers will reveal their latest discoveries and provide a sneak peek at the possibilities from the Rubin Observatory. After the presentation, enjoy a rare, behind-the-scenes tour of our labs, where the secrets of comet dust are uncovered.

This season has been filled with remarkable discoveries and positive media coverage. We invite you to explore the articles linked here for more details. We hope you find them as inspiring as we do and look forward to seeing you in person at our upcoming DiRAC event.

Thank you,

Mario Juric
Director, DiRAC Institute
Professor, Department of Astronomy

DiRAC Planetarium | June 12th at 6:00 pm

You are invited!

Join us for a planetarium show, an evening of discussion and learning with UW astronomers building the largest sky survey in human history.

June 12, 2024, 6:00 PM – 8:00 PM

Register here!

Reserve your spot today by using this registration link.

Space is limited for this event.

Refreshments and light appetizers will be available during the event in the auditorium foyer.

Physics/Astronomy Auditorium (PAA), 3910 15th Ave NE, Seattle, WA 98105

We’re at the brink of a new age of survey-driven discovery in astronomy. Where before we could only study a handful of objects at a time, new detectors, algorithms, and telescopes will soon allow us – and the entire world – to monitor billions.

The flagship of this era will be the Rubin Observatory, set to open in Chile in 2025. Rubin will continuously gather data for over 20Bn stars, 20Bn galaxies, with billions of asteroid observations. In importance, it is a ground-based peer of the Webb space telescope.

We hope you can join us for this enriching experience!


6:00 PM – 6:30 PM

Welcome & Introduction to DiRAC

Prof. Mario Juric, DiRAC Director

6:30 PM – 7:30 PM

Planetarium Experience: First Science with Rubin Observatory

Prof. Andrew Connolly, eScience Director

7:30 PM – 8:00 PM

Conversations with UW Astronomers

Joachim Moeyens, Postdoctoral Fellow at the DiRAC Institute at the University of Washington

Ari Heinze, Research Scientist, University of Washington, DiRAC Institute

Colin Orion Chandler, LINCC Frameworks project scientist at the University of Washington and DiRAC Institute

LSST Camera Made Its Way to the Rubin Observatory

LSST Camera Arrives at Rubin Observatory in Chile, Paving the Way for Cosmic Exploration

This is the last major component of the Rubin Observatory, and it will soon be integrated into the Simonyi Survey Telescope to begin calibration and testing. We at DiRAC, UW Astronomy, and the whole Rubin/LSST community are thrilled to see the hardware finally on site!

Image credit: Olivier Bonin/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

This is the last major component of the Rubin Observatory, and it will soon be integrated into the Simonyi Survey Telescope to begin calibration and testing. We at DiRAC, UW Astronomy, and the whole Rubin/LSST community are thrilled to see the hardware finally on site!

As you know, this is the largest digital camera of its kind ever created, and will be in near-constant use for a decade as we search the sky for asteroids, supernovae, and the unknown unknowns! As the first test data starts to arrive, and with Survey operations starting next year, I am so excited to see the discoveries that will rewrite our textbooks. 

Beyond software and science development, we’re busy recruiting and continuing to build the team that will make these groundbreaking discoveries possible at UW.  We are in the midst of grant writing and fundraising to allow us to bring a new cohort of diverse and energetic scientists to Seattle, and I invite you all to continue to be involved in this journey with us. 

Finally, thank you for your support and enthusiasm over the past 6 years. I am always so heartened to see how many people share our vision to understand the Universe through data.

Keep looking up!

Jim Davenport

Associate Director, DiRAC

Algorithms pioneered at DiRAC help Asteroid Institute and Google Identify 27,500 New Asteroids

The Solar System group at the DiRAC Institute at the University of Washington has dedicated efforts to advancing asteroid and comet discovery algorithms for large datasets and next generation surveys. Our enduring partnership with the Asteroid Institute has yielded significant progress, resulting in the development of a novel algorithm known as Tracklet-less Heliocentric Orbit Recovery (THOR).

This innovative algorithm has been built into the Asteroid Institute’s Asteroid Discovery Analysis and Mapping (ADAM) platform, running on Google Cloud.

Asteroid Institute, a program of B612 Foundation, and Google today announced the most significant results of this partnership to date: identifying 27,500 new, high-confidence asteroid discovery candidates.

Congratulations to the entire team!

Featured in New York Times here.

Read more here about the details of their work and the discovery.

Credit: B612 Asteroid Institute / University of Washington DiRAC Institute / OpenSpace Project

Discoveries visualized in the inner Solar System. Main belt asteroid discoveries, shown in green, reside between the orbits of Mars (red) and Jupiter (brownish-gray). The Jupiter Trojans, shown in orange, lead and follow Jupiter at 2 and 10 o’clock. In light blue are Near Earth Objects (NEOs) discoveries.

Letter From the Director

Prof. Mario Jurić

Welcome to the first edition of DiRAC’s newsletter in 2024! As we kick off the Spring quarter, we’re excited to share updates highlighting the achievements and outreach efforts of our outstanding team members. These include an announcement of discoveries of numerous active asteroids by thousands of citizen scientists led by Colin Chandler (LINCC postdoctoral scientist at DiRAC), a new paper by J-F Crenshaw (graduate student at DiRAC) describing how AI can be used to control the shape of telescope mirrors and increase its effective resolution, and a recognition with the Buchalter Prize of a novel space-measurement technique devised by Kyle Boone (fmr. DiRAC Fellow) and Matt McQuinn (UW Astronomy Professor).

Your support is what makes work like this, and the education that precedes it, possible at DiRAC. In just a few days, on April 4th, we invite you to support DiRAC’s student-focused research program on Husky Giving Day. Additionally, mark your calendar for June 12th, when you’ll have another chance to engage with UW astronomers at the DiRAC Planetarium Experience. Our researchers will share some of the recent discoveries, and update us on the first images we expect from the Rubin Observatory later in the summer. Then join us for a behind-the-scenes tour of the labs, usually hidden from the public eye, where we explore the mysteries of comet dust.

This season, we’ve had no shortage of discoveries and awards – delve into the articles here for more details. We hope you enjoy reading about them and feel inspired to join us in person at the next DiRAC event.

Thank you,

Mario Juric
Director, DiRAC Institute
Professor, Department of Astronomy

Support Astronomy students on Husky Giving Day 2024

Your contribution on Husky Giving Day is a catalyst for a student-centered initiative led by DiRAC and the Department of Astronomy! Make a gift today!

The “Summer Research Prize” program bridges the gap between enthusiastic undergraduate students and dedicated faculty researchers. This collaboration cultivates innovation, allowing them to work together on cutting-edge projects that span the vast and fascinating field of astronomy.

Programs like this accelerate and deepen student research engagement, particularly for those from non-traditional pathways. Your support makes our outreach, education, and fundamental research possible. Thank you for playing a crucial role in our journey!

We are excited to sustain and expand this program, and it’s your continued support that fuels its success.

Katelyn Ebert (Advisor: Prof. Matt McQuinn): Precision Measurement of the Hubble Constant with Fast Radio Bursts

“The Summer Research Prize was pivotal in facilitating my student’s research over the summer, which laid the foundation for an innovative space telescope concept now supported by NASA for further exploration.”

Prof. Matthew J McQuinn, Advisor 2023
Benjamin Herrera, Bowang Lan, John Delker, Celeste Hagee, Katelyn Ebert, and Andy Tzanidakis 

“The Husky Giving Day is momentous for our UW Astronomy community as it provides the means for us to make profound discoveries about our universe at the DiRAC institute”

Andy Tzanidakis, Mentor 2023

Read more about 2023 Summer Prize Awards here.

Using AI for Wave-front Estimation with the Rubin Observatory Active Optics System

The Rubin Observatory will use a sophisticated auto-focus system (i.e., active optics) to enable the fast cadence and high image quality required for its groundbreaking ten year survey of the southern sky.

This system must operate with higher speed and deliver higher precision than what has been necessary for previous wide-field surveys which limits the applicability of existing state-of-the-art active optics algorithms. In this work we design a new algorithm which uses artificial intelligence (AI) to accelerate and increase the predictive power of the active optics system in a wide variety of observing conditions which the Rubin Observatory will face

John Franklin Crenshaw is a 5th year PhD student in the Physics Department.

He works with Professor Andy Connolly and UW scientists Bryce Kalmbach and Chris Suberlak on building the active optics pipeline for the Vera Rubin Observatory.

Published paper in February 2024, it can be found here.


The Vera C. Rubin Observatory will, over a period of 10 yr, repeatedly survey the southern sky. To ensure that images generated by Rubin meet the quality requirements for precision science, the observatory will use an active-optics system (AOS) to correct for alignment and mirror surface perturbations introduced by gravity and temperature gradients in the optical system.

To accomplish this, Rubin will use out-of-focus images from sensors located at the edge of the focal plane to learn and correct for perturbations to the wave front. We have designed and integrated a deep-learning (DL) model for wave-front estimation into the AOS pipeline. In this paper, we compare the performance of this DL approach to Rubin’s baseline algorithm when applied to images from two different simulations of the Rubin optical system. We show the DL approach is faster and more accurate, achieving the atmospheric error floor both for high-quality images and low-quality images with heavy blending and vignetting. Compared to the baseline algorithm, the DL model is 40× faster, the median error 2× better under ideal conditions, 5× better in the presence of vignetting by the Rubin camera, and 14× better in the presence of blending in crowded fields. In addition, the DL model surpasses the required optical quality in simulations of the AOS closed loop.

This system promises to increase the survey area useful for precision science by up to 8%. We discuss how this system might be deployed when commissioning and operating Rubin.

2023 Buchalter Cosmology First Prize awarded to Dr. Kyle Boone and Dr. Matthew McQuinn


The $10,000 First Prize was awarded to Dr. Kyle Boone (former DiRAC Fellow, presently at Google Inc.) and Dr. Matthew McQuinn (Professor of Astronomy at the University of Washington), for their work entitled “Solar System-scale interferometry on fast radio bursts could measure cosmic distances with sub-percent precision”.

Last year (in 2023), Kyle and Matt devised a new method for measuring cosmological distances to fast radio bursts using the differences in wavefront arrival times as measured by extremely long baseline interferometry. The technique requires spacecrafts floating at the opposing ends of the Solar System and thus years away. But someday, a system like they describe will yield unprecedentedly accurate, sub-percent, constraints on cosmological parameters and also a new, independent way, to measure the Hubble constant.

The Buchalter Cosmology Prize seeks to stimulate ground-breaking theoretical, observational, or experimental work in cosmology that has the potential to produce a breakthrough advance in our understanding. It was created to support the development of new theories, observations, or methods, that can help illuminate the puzzle of cosmic expansion from first principles.

More about the Buchalter Cosmology Prize here.

Citizen Scientists Uncover Hidden Secrets of the Solar System: “Active Asteroids” Project Reveals Dozens of Rare Celestial Bodies

A Treasure Trove of Discoveries Revealed in New Article by Zooniverse Project Active Asteroids

In an innovative exploration that intertwines the realms of astronomy and Citizen Science, a new publication unveils the first results of the Active Asteroids Citizen Science Program. Spearheaded by Colin Orion Chandler (DiRAC Institute, University of Washington) and a formidable team of researchers, this initiative has embarked on an audacious mission: to enlist the help of the public in uncovering the secrets of our solar system’s elusive active asteroids. These intriguing celestial bodies, akin to asteroids with comet-like tails or comae, have long captivated scientists and enthusiasts alike. Yet, their rarity and the challenge of identification have shrouded them in mystery.

Figure 1: The 16 active object discoveries made by the Active Asteroids program. Each panel shows an object at the center, with a tail or coma (dust cloud) emanating from that object. (Image Credit: Henry Hsieh)

Harnessing the power of NASA’s partnership and the online Citizen Science platform Zooniverse, the project has made significant strides since its launch in August 2021. With over 9,000 volunteers participating, the collective effort has scrutinized approximately 500,000 images from the vast archives of the Dark Energy Camera (DECam), an instrument on the Blanco 4-meter telescope atop Cerro Tololo, Chile. This massive undertaking has not only democratized scientific research in the study of active asteroids but has also led to the identification of previously unknown activity in 16 solar system bodies (Figure 1) — findings that are improving our understanding of the solar system. Furthermore, the program has unearthed activity in known objects during previous orbital epochs, offering new insights into their behavior and classification.

The success of the Active Asteroids Citizen Science Program exemplifies the transformative potential of Citizen Science in astronomical research. It highlights how the collective effort of volunteers, armed with curiosity and supported by cutting-edge technology, can uncover secrets of the cosmos. Notably, nine of the paper’s authors are themselves Citizen Scientsits from the Active Asteroids project. “For me, Active Asteroids present an opportunity to contribute to science through professional methods,” said Virgilio Gonano, a Citizen Scientist author from Udine, Italy. “I can interact directly with both professional and amateur astronomers. For an amateur astronomer like me, it’s a dream come true!

As the program continues to unveil new discoveries, it invites us all to ponder our place in the expanse of our own solar system and beyond. Anyone interested can participate today in the ongoing endeavor by visiting http://activeasteroids.net.

Colin Orion Chandler


Colin Orion Chandler

LINCC Frameworks Project Scientist and Postdoctoral Scholar

DiRAC Institute and the University of Washington


1 206 543 2888

About the DiRAC Institute

The University of Washington’s Institute for Data-Intensive Research in Astrophysics and Cosmology (DiRAC) brings together the diversity of expertise — from astrophysics, data science, to software engineering — needed to build the world’s most advanced datasets and algorithms, and use them to explore and understand the universe. DiRAC scientists play a major role in the construction of Rubin Observatory and the development of next-generation software tools through the LINCC program. Learn more at https://dirac.astro.washington.edu/.