Month: November 2014

UW Planetarium Open Nights – December Shows!

Continuing with our planetarium series on the first Friday of every month, here are the invites for next Friday’s shows! Enjoy!

7pm –

8:30pm –

Tickets go fast, so get em while they’re there!


Profiles of Astronomers: Stacie Mahuna


Who are you and where are you from? My name is Stacie Mahuna. While I’m originally from Wisconsin, my hubs and I fled that snowy wasteland back in 2011 and I’ve been here in Seattle ever since!

  • How did you become interested in Astronomy?

Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve always loved space. (I was “that kid” that knew the order of the planets before I knew the months of the year.) The first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova, was my hero. I wanted to be just like her! As I got older, I discovered Neil Degrasse Tyson, Annie Jump Cannon, and Stephen Hawking and was fascinated by the work they did. It felt like the more humanity discovered about the Universe, the bigger and more mysterious it got, and the more its puzzles drew me in. Now I’m hooked for good. J

  • If you’re an astronomer (grad/post-doc/faculty), what do you study?

I’m not currently part of the astronomy program – I just participate vicariously through others. Maybe that will change one day!

  • What’s the coolest thing (not literal) in the Universe?

The coolest thing in the Universe for me is the Noctis Labyrinthus, just west of Valles Marineris on Mars. It’s a section of criss-crossing fissures in Mars’ surface that hovers around -100 degrees Farenheit at the bottom (-70 C). There are two reasons why this is my favorite thing in the Universe. One, Noctis Labyrinthus is Latin for “Labyrinth of Night”, which is easily one of the creepiest/most epic names ever. Two, a deposit “of unknown origin” was recently discovered at the bottom of one of the canyons. What it is exactly and how it got there is unclear. I just think it’s amazing that something so mysterious can be found so close by on our next-door neighbor. How little we know about the space around us!

  • What’s the coolest thing outside of your field?

My field is health research, so I do a lot of population-based studies, specifically tobacco cessation and obesity research. There’s a lot of research projects going on outside of pop. health that sound incredibly interesting! I saw an article the other day that talked about robotic prosthetics and several studies that are focusing on amputees’ use of their new limbs. That’s way more futuristic than anything I currently do!

  • What is your favorite non-astronomy hobby?

I write a lot of fiction in my spare time. Currently, I’m trying to get a novel and a screenplay published. We’ll see how that goes. J

  • Is there anything else you’d like the public to know about you?

I’ve never had a tooth pulled before. It felt like an important piece of information to share.

Profiles of Astronomers: Giada Arney


This week’s featured astronomer is UW Planetarium Coordinator Giada Arney!

  • Who are you and where are you from?

I’m Giada, a fifth year grad student at UW, and I’m originally from colorful Colorado.

  • How did you become interested in Astronomy?

When I was a little kid, my mom would point out constellations to my sister and me on our backyard deck on warm summer nights.  I fell in love with the sky and begged for a telescope so that I could see more.

  • If you’re an astronomer, what do you study?

I’m fascinated by planets, both in terms of what they can teach us about our own world, and in terms of how they are surprising and different from Earth.  I’ve studied Earth’s evil twin sister, Venus, and I’m currently using computer models to study the atmosphere of Archean Earth (3.8-2.5 billion years ago) as an analog for Earthlike exoplanets (which are planets around other stars).  Archean Earth may have had a hazy atmosphere, and hazy worlds may be common in the exoplanet population, so understanding how hazes impact our ability to characterize far away planetary atmospheres is important. I think we can learn a lot about far away worlds by looking close to home and applying what we know about the more familiar planets in our solar system to the very alien planets we’ve begun to discover around other stars.

  • What’s the coolest thing (not literal) in the Universe?

There are over 100 billion stars in our galaxy, the Milky Way.  We now know that most stars have planetary systems, so that means there are over 100 billion planets in our galaxy.  That’s a lot of planets!  We’re beginning to understand how to detect the fingerprints of alien life from afar, so if there’s life out there, someday we’ll know.

  • What’s the coolest thing outside of your field?

Life’s diversity and tenacity amazes me.  Life seems to occupy just about every available niche on our planet: from the sky, to the oceans, to even radioactive waste!

  • What is your favorite non-astronomy hobby?

I love traveling, gardening, cooking, and reading.

  • Is there anything else you’d like the public to know about you?

Being the UW planetarium coordinator is pretty awesome!  I love helping to inspire the next generation of scientists.

Profiles of Astronomers: Lori Beerman

This week, we have another 6th-year astronomy graduate student, Lori Beerman!


  • Who are you and where are you from?

Lori, a 6th year graduate student in UW’s Astronomy Department.  I’m originally from Cincinnati, Ohio but now I am completely in love with the Pacific Northwest!

  • How did you become interested in Astronomy?

I remember learning in third grade that our Sun was actually an ordinary star.  This fact amazed me—it meant that all of the other stars in the night sky were like our Sun, and could have little worlds around them, full of alien life.  Since then, I have been fascinated with trying to discover as much as I can about the universe and our place in it.

  • If you’re an astronomer, what do you study?

I study star clusters in the Andromeda Galaxy.  I am trying to determine their ages and masses, and their relation to the molecular gas from which they were born.

  • What’s the coolest thing (not literal) in the Universe?

The fact that we are literally made from stardust!

  • What’s the coolest thing outside of your field?

Having the opportunity to travel to awesome places such as Hawaii and Italy and make new friends from around the world.

  • What is your favorite non-astronomy hobby?

Learning to play the piano, which is something I always wanted to do as a child, and I’m now making it happen.

  • Is there anything else you’d like the public to know about you?

I also enjoy playing around with all kinds of data sets, cooking, reading, and hanging out with my awesome family.

Thank You!

Thanks to all of those that came out to the planetarium show last night! It was a blast presenting for you and answering all of your many and varied questions. I hope that it was as much fun for you as well.

We’ll be doing this again on the first Friday night of every month, at 7pm and 8:30pm. Please stay tuned to the Planetarium Facebook Page and the Twitter account for more details on where to get your next set of tickets!

As always, bring your friends, your coworkers, your family, and MOST importantly, your questions! See you next month!

Profiles of Astronomers: Jim Davenport


Leading this week (and starting our switch to updating on Mondays), we have 6th year grad student Jim Davenport!

Who are you and where are you from?

I’m Jim, currently a 6th year grad student in the Astro department here at UW.

I grew up in Washington, and went to college at UW, studying Physics and Astronomy. When I graduated with my Bachelors I wanted to go to grad school, but was rejected from all of my schools.  Looking back, I wouldn’t have admitted me either! It sounds cheesy, but while this rejection was emotionally challenging, it made me a much stronger student. I finally got admitted to a masters-only program at San Diego State University, and after spending 2 years in California I moved back to UW to pursue a PhD.

How did you become interested in Astronomy?

Growing up I had a constant interest in space and science. Star Trek was (and still is) my favorite TV/movie franchise. In high school I flipped burgers, and paid my way to attend Space Camp. At 18 I desperately wanted to be an astronaut, so when I first went to college I knew I was going to be an Aerospace Engineer. Of course, 18 year old me quickly discovered a dislike (and/or no talent) for engineering, and my college grades reflected this. I was doing terribly in my intro Physics classes too. I meanwhile had taken an intro astronomy course that was my first (and for a long while only) A grade. Once I declared astronomy as my major, things started to “click”.

If you’re an astronomer, what do you study?

Broadly I am interested in the history of our Galaxy, and the story of our cosmic origins. In particular I enjoy studying stars… binary stars, clusters of stars, huge survey databases of stars, or even just directed observation of a single star. Stars are the best tracer of the Galaxy, like studying forests using individual trees. Each study, from single stars to ensemble statistics throughout the Galaxy, reveals different aspects of the Milky Way’s history.

Currently I am working mostly with data from Kepler, and I hope to continue working on space-based time-domain astronomy (for stars, of course!) for many years to come.

What’s the coolest thing (not literal) in the Universe?

The Sun and the Moon are almost exactly the same apparent size in the sky. This is of course a coincidence so far as we know… but it helped fuel the earliest religions and stories of our origins.

What’s the coolest thing outside of your field?


Coffee is pretty damn rad too.

What is your favorite non-astronomy hobby?

Since 2012 I have been writing a blog about data, visualization, and science []. It has been a wonderful hobby, and helped open many interesting doors. I don’t generally write about astronomy, so it enables me to learn about new fields or sources of data.

Is there anything else you’d like the public to know about you?

Remember: everyone is born a scientist, curious about the world. Math, logic, and science are not mysterious disciplines that only the elite or over-educated understand. They belong to the world.