To study the cosmos, scientists manage an astronomical amount of data

In northern Chile in 2025, the Vera C. Rubin Observatory will begin gathering images of the night sky. “First light” (as astronomers call the moment a telescopic eye first opens) will inaugurate the Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST)—the most ambitious and comprehensive optical astronomy survey ever undertaken. The UW was one of four founders of the LSST project, which will capture panoramic images of the entire visible sky twice a week for 10 years, making 30 trillion observations of 30 billion astronomical sources and measuring the positions and properties of nearly 20 billion stars.

That’s a lot of data.

So much data, in fact, that it’ll take powerful new tools to manage and analyze it all. Enter DiRAC: the UW’s Institute for Data Intensive Research in Astrophysics & Cosmology.

DiRAC, based in the UW Department of Astronomy in the College of Arts & Sciences, was launched thanks to a gift from the Charles and Lisa Simonyi Fund for Arts and Sciences. The Simonyis anticipated that cameras and telescopes—like the Rubin’s cutting-edge Simonyi Survey Telescope—would soon become so powerful that we wouldn’t be able to keep up with the data they brought in. Since then, DiRAC’s growing team of UW scientists, software engineers, data science specialists and students have been crafting software to comb through vast amounts of information.

Once DiRAC begins interpreting the LSST data, scientists may have answers to questions that fundamentally reshape our understanding of our place in the universe: Is there a Planet Nine? When will the next “killer asteroid” come close to Earth? What are the origins of dark matter and the structure of the universe?

And perhaps the biggest question of all: What is out there that we aren’t even expecting to find?

New algorithm ensnares its first ‘potentially hazardous’ asteroid

An asteroid discovery algorithm — designed to uncover near-Earth asteroids for the
Vera C. Rubin Observatory’s upcoming 10-year survey of the night sky — has identified
its first “potentially hazardous” asteroid, a term for space rocks in Earth’s vicinity that
scientists like to keep an eye on.

The roughly 600-foot-long asteroid, designated 2022
SF289, was discovered during a test drive of the algorithm with the ATLAS survey in
Hawaii. Finding 2022 SF289, which poses no risk to Earth for the foreseeable future,
confirms that the next-generation algorithm, known as HelioLinc3D, can identify near-
Earth asteroids with fewer and more dispersed observations than required by today’s

Read full article here.

Secrets of the Stars

How UW astronomers, the world’s largest telescope and a revolutionary survey of space will upend what we thought we knew about the universe. Full article is featured on the UW Homepage here.

A green comet is passing by Earth. Here’s how to see it.

“The Zwicky Transient Facility, which found the new green comet, provides a preview of what to expect from the Vera C. Rubin Observatory, a gigantic facility currently under construction in Chile. Once operational in 2024, it will be the biggest survey telescope ever built, opening up a whole new era of cosmic understanding. “

Earth’s Orbit Is About to Get More Crowded

Sometime this coming March, a network of 10 small satellites winged with solar panels is scheduled to launch into Earth’s low orbit. Though likely invisible to the naked eye, the satellites will be part of a future herd of hundreds that, according to the Space Development Agency, or SDA, will bolster the United States’ defense capabilities.

The seven-year photobomb: Distant star’s dimming was likely a ‘dusty’ companion getting in the way, astronomers say

UW doctoral student Anastasios “Andy” Tzanidakis announced the discovery of a rare type of binary star system. Tzanidakis and Dr. James Davenport, a UW research assistant professor of astronomy and associate director of the DiRAC Institute, were investigating why the star Gaia17bpp had gradually brightened over a 2 1/2-year period. In some investigative follow-up work, which involved examining decades of observations of Gaia17bpp, they determined that the star itself was not changing. Instead, according to the data, Gaia17bpp is likely part of a rare type of binary star system, and its apparent brightening was the end a years-long eclipse by a stellar companion that is — quite simply — dusty. Gaia17bpp’s likely companion is slow-moving and surrounded by a disk of unknown material.

Catching this eclipse was a once-in-a-lifetime event, and indicates that this type of system may be more common than previously known. If so, scientists will need to develop theories of how such an unusual stellar pairing arose – because right now, that’s not easy to do.

Here is a link to the full story:

Big Data in the Night Sky

In conversation with James Davenport and 2022 DiRAC Research Prize recipients read more about Vera C. Rubin Observatory and important role of the scientists at the UW’s DiRAC Institute.