Catherine Zucker

Astronomer · Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian ·

I am a 4th year astronomy PhD student (and an NSF Graduate Research Fellow) at Harvard University, working with Alyssa Goodman and Doug Finkbeiner. I use observations, simulations, astrostatistics, and the latest visualization sofware to understand the 3D structure of our Milky Way's gas and dust. Some of my research interests include:

  • Delineating the spiral structure of the Milky Way
  • Characterizing the physical properties of the largest-scale filaments in our Galaxy via observations and simulations
  • Mapping the distribution of the Milky Way's dust in 3D using stellar photometry
  • Linking gas and dust observations, and using Gaia to determine better distances to molecular clouds
  • Data visualization, specifically with the high-dimensional linked-view data visualization software called glue


Harvard University

Doctor of Philosophy
Astronomy & Astrophysics
Fall 2017 - Present

Harvard University

Master of Arts
Astronomy & Astrophysics
Fall 2015 - Fall 2017

University of Virginia

Bachelor of Arts
Astronomy-Physics & History
Fall 2011 - Spring 2015


Check out my ADS library for a complete list of my publications.

Mapping Distances across the Perseus Molecular Cloud Using CO Observations, Stellar Photometry, and Gaia DR2 Parallax Measurements

We present a a new technique to map velocities to distances in molecular clouds, and apply it to the local Perseus Molecular Cloud. We find that the velocity gradient of 5 km/s across Perseus maps to a distance gradient of about 25 pc. We are planning to apply the same technique to massive arm-tracing clouds in the Galactic plane, to produce more precise 4D maps of molecular cloud positions!

RadFil: A Python Package for Building and Fitting Radial Profiles for Interstellar Filaments

We have created an open source python package called RadFil that makes it easy to build and fit radial density profiles for interstellar filaments. Check out my GitHub repository for a full working example of the code.

The Physical Properties of Large-scale Galactic Filaments

We present the first uniform, systematic comparison of the physical properties of the largest (~ 100 pc) scale filaments in the Milky Way. We find that the longest and skinniest of these filaments (Galactic "Bones"; see Zucker et al. 2015) show the most potential for tracing spiral structure, while other catalogs could be large concentrations of molecular gas (giant molecular clouds, core complexes).

Hierarchical Formation in Action: Characterizing Accelerated Galaxy Evolution in Compact Groups using Whole-Sky WISE Data

We present a catalog of WISE mid-IR photometry for 163 compact groups -- dense associations of three or more bright galaxies that undergo frequent interaction. Compact groups undergo a rapid transition from active star formation to quiescence, and we characterize a large sample of these "transition" galaxies.

The Skeleton of the Milky Way

We present a new class of interstellar filaments in the Milky Way -- Galactic "Bones". These filaments are all long and skinny mid-IR extinction features, which lie parallel and in close proximity to the Galactic plane, and to known spiral arms. New numerical simulations (Zucker & Smith et al. 2019, in prep) show these filaments may form in the spiral potential wells of our Galaxy, and could be useful for tracing Galactic structure.


Programming Languages & Tools



Click here to download a copy of my CV