Summer 2018 Newsletter

Letter from the Chair

Dear Friends,

It is another glorious summer here at UW Astronomy (or at least, it was until the wildfire smoke moved in).  While much of the country focuses on vacations and BBQ’s, many of us in the Department are engaged in that long academic tradition of “happily catching up on all the research you couldn’t keep up with during the school year.”  For many of us, that involves long uninterrupted stretches in the office with few meetings, allowing us to concentrate on solving existing problems, or exploring new ideas.  These fertile periods are often interspersed with trips to visit collaborators or to attend interesting conferences, which in turn spawn new projects and plans for future research.  As such, summers are the time when we recharge intellectually for the coming year.

But, the flip side is that summers in the Department can be quiet.  Our colleagues are often traveling the world, and we have fewer events that bring us together as a group.  Moreover, we miss our students, who normally bring a tremendous amount of enthusiasm and energy to the campus.  As much as I enjoy the focus on research during the summers, it’s always a thrill when the students return to campus in late September.

This year promises to be more exciting than usual, as we welcome a particularly large class of entering graduate students, who I know will add to the terrific intellectual community of their more senior graduate colleagues.  We also will welcome a new crop of undergraduates to our Pre-Major in Astronomy Program (Pre-MAP; This long-running program is for entering students (both freshmen and transfers) who are interested in math and science and who are traditionally underrepresented in astronomy.  The Pre-MAP cohort engages in astronomy research in their very first quarter on campus, while also receiving one-on-one mentoring and support from their peers.  Pre-MAP is yet another program that was started and fostered by our graduate students, who continue to excel at bringing science to the larger world, at the same time as they discover new truths about the Universe.

And on that inspirational note, I’d like to end by thanking all of you for the many contributions you’ve made to the department through the years — through your time, your financial support, or your well-wishes.  Now that this note is written, I’m off to a BBQ!

Best Wishes,

Julianne Dalcanton
Professor and Chair
Astronomy Department
University of Washington


Kudos of the Quarter

This summer we’d like to give kudos to a senior undergraduate Courtney Klein. Courtney is currently double majoring in Astronomy and Physics. Over the summer she has been at Montana State University working with Prof. Dana Longcope on solar flare simulations.

“My project was to use simulations to recreate the observed results of a solar flare from 2017 so that we can build a better understanding of the physics driving the flare. I have been able to reproduce the temperature and emission measure of the observed flare using the simulation and so we are in the process of writing a paper that explains the physics behind the flare’s temperature distribution.”

When she gets back she will have only one quarter before she graduates with honors in both the Physics and Astronomy departments. Courtney was also the recipient of the Baer prize. This prize is awarded annually to the top performing undergraduates in the Astronomy department. Courtney is also a member of the League of Astronomers. This group his heavily involved in events at the Theodore Jacobsen Observatory, and giving presentations at the planetarium. She plays a huge role in the success of our departments outreach programs. For the past year she has been working on quasar spectra absorption analysis with Prof. Jessica Werk.

“Courtney has been a stand-out member of my undergraduate research group, Student Quasar Absorption Diagnosticians (Werk SQuAD), for the past year. Having Courtney on the SQuAD has been an absolute game-changer in terms of our overall productivity. She is the kind of student who quietly encourages other students to strive for excellence, leading by example. By bringing her A-game to our SQuAD meetings, Courtney motivates everyone to work harder and more effectively. We are so lucky to have a student like Courtney in our department!” – Prof. Jessica Werk

In her spare time she trains for triathlons with the UW Triathlon Club. She has competed in the Collegiate National Triathlon Championship race, and hopes to race an Ironman in the next couple of years. We are excited to continue to share in her research this fall, and we encourage you to attend one of our many outreach events, at which I’m sure you can find Courtney.


Graduate Research: Focus on Kathryn Neugent

Kathryn Neugent started UW in 2017 and has been working with Dr. Emily Levesque on massive star research, specifically Red Supergiants (RSGs) and their binary properties.
Previous observations of un-evolved massive stars suggest that the binary fraction of more evolved massive stars should be around 30%. However, there are very few binary RSGs known. So, do they just not exist or have we not yet discovered them? This is the question Kathryn is hoping to answer.

Evolutionary models predict that RSGs will be in a binary system with B stars and these combinations should be observable, not just spectroscopically but also photometrically. Kathryn has designed a set of photometric cutoffs that should allow astronomers to search for binary RSGs using just their colors. These cutoffs have been tested with observed RSG and B-star binaries from the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds. She has since gone to the Apache Point Observatory to search for galactic RSG+B binaries and will look for more within M31 and M33 this fall with the MMT down in Tucson, Arizona.

In April Kathryn had a first-author AJ paper accepted for publication on the discovery of a unusual runaway yellow star, which received enthusiastic press coverage.  Kathryn did a fantastic podcast interview as part of this and is continuing to work on additional research focused on the nature of this star.

“This was actually just one project of hers, building on work that she did with a collaborator of ours while at Lowell Observatory. This all came together while she was also taking classes and doing research with me as an IGERT fellow here, computing a grid of synthetic spectra and photometry for binary red supergiants.” -Professor Emily Levesque

Kathryn’s first year at UW has been phenomenal. We are extremely happy to share her work, and see it spread through the Astronomy community. When she’s not deep in massive star research Kathryn can be found hiking (she misses Colorado and the Rocky Mountains), doing astrophotography, and playing with her cat and corgi. How she has the time to do all of this we’ll never know. Please join us in congratulating Kathryn for finishing her first year with such a flare.


Upcoming Events

The League of Astronomers Club

The League of Astronomers is a club at the University of Washington which seeks to expose as many people as possible to the joy of astronomy. We will be writing the upcoming events and outreach sections for the newsletter now, and in the future! With many people out of town for the summer, we focus our efforts on running Theodor Jacobsen Observatory events. Regular meetings will resume in the fall. Please contact our group at if you have any questions about becoming a member, or if you have any general inquiries about our group. Please contact if you have any questions about TJO events.

Theodor Jacobsen Observatory is Still Open!

Every summer, Theodor Jacobsen Observatory opens its doors to the public. Sadly, one of our main teachers and guides Prof. Ana Larsen retired. She was a great contributor, organizer, and speaker to the observatory. She is and will be sorely missed. With her departure Prof. Bruce Balick and our very own undergraduate Adriana Gomez-Buckley, event coordinator officer, has been working hard scheduling and organizing the twice-monthly events. The rest of League participates by giving talks, running science demos, and answering any and all questions about the universe we live in. Most recently, homeschool groups have been coming in for personal talks and tours. Even the Protostars, a UW Astronomy summer camp for young girls, made a special visit to learn about spectra, galaxies, telescopes, and what it’s like to be an astronomer. During our events participants are shown how to use our smaller telescopes, they get a tour of the observatory, and they get to test our knowledge of the universe. We look forward to meeting you!


The TJO hosts Evening Public Talks every 1st and 3rd Wednesday of the month from April to September. There are only two talks left in this year’s season:

September 5 –  8:00 pm: Tzvetelina Dimi, “The Moons of Our Solar System.”
 This talk will tour through the prominent moons of the Solar System, including those of Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. Special emphasis will be put on the Galilean moons and their scientific importance. It will also explore the chances of life beneath these surfaces and the mysteries the moons of Jupiter and Saturn.

September 19 – 8:00 pm: Bayu Wilson, topic TBA.

Saturn, the Moon and Mars will be visible in the night sky.