The science dealing with objects and phenomena located beyond Earth. In particular, this applies to observations and data. At its core, astronomy is the physically informed cataloging and classifying of the contents of the universe in order to better understand what is out there.

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How can we see planets thousands of light years away but don't know if there are more planets in the solar system?

That is basically my question, it arose when I saw an article (here is the scientific paper, which should be free to read) saying two Caltech scientists might have found the 9th planet of the solar ...
45
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2answers
6k views

Why are gold mirrors yellow?

Why are golden mirrors yellow? Do they add a yellow component to the spectrum or absorb non-yellow components? If they absorb, then why are they used in telescopes being imperfect? If they add a ...
35
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4answers
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Why is a new moon not the same as a solar eclipse?

Forgive the elementary nature of this question: Because a new moon occurs when the moon is positioned between the earth and sun, doesn't this also mean that somewhere on the Earth, a solar eclipse ...
34
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8answers
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Why can't we see light travelling from point A to B?

Let's say we have a cloud of dust which is a lightyear across and someone shoots a beam of light from point A to B , why it is not possible for an observer far far away to see the light while it ...
32
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8answers
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Would it matter if the Earth rotated clockwise?

In the Futurama episode "That Darn Katz!" they save the world by rotating the Earth backwards saying it shouldn't matter (which direction Earth rotates). If Earth rotated clockwise and remained in ...
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8answers
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Why CAN we see the new moon at night?

I understand that the Moon's phases are determined by its position in orbit relative to the Sun. (See: Full Story on the Moon). The "shadow" is not cast by the Earth (a common misconception - this is ...
29
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4answers
734 views

Telescopes to avoid as a beginner? [closed]

I've heard people talk about "department store scopes" or "trash scopes". How do I know what to avoid in a beginner scope? How can I know that I'm not getting something we will be more frustrated with ...
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4answers
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Why are there no asteroids or meteoroids with relativistic speeds?

Cosmic rays can have energies going into the $10^{20}$ eV domain. Asteroids and meteoroids originating in the solar system are probably limited in their speed because they all started out from the ...
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3answers
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Why are there no stars visible in this photograph?

Pluto and Charon, photo taken by New Horizons on July 8, 2015 from a distance of 6 gigameters. it's hard for me to believe there were no stars behind the twin dwarf planets in the field of vision. ...
26
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3answers
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Are Hubble Telescope Images in true color?

Like many others, I have marveled at the images made available from the Hubble Space Telescope over the years. But, I have always had a curiosity about the color shown in these images. An example is ...
23
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3answers
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How to determine what size telescope to buy

A couple of years ago my son showed an interest in astronomy and we bought a 6" reflector telescope. We use it pretty regularly and have enjoyed it immensely. Lately we've both been wishing we had ...
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Why are the orbits of planets in the Solar System nearly circular?

Except for Mercury, the planets in the Solar System have very small eccentricities. Is this property special to the Solar System? Wikipedia states: Most exoplanets with orbital periods of 20 ...
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1answer
631 views

How do we know that these radio bursts are from billions of light-years away?

NASA just announced that they detected the first radio bursts from outside of our galaxy. Astronomers, including a team member from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., have ...
21
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3answers
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How long does it take to travel 36 light years with tolerable acceleration and deceleration?

The recent discovery of HD85512b only 36 light years from Earth has promising attributes to harbor life. Assuming we want to travel there, we cannot instantaneously jump to light speed, (StarTrek ...
21
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1answer
2k views

How fast is the Earth-Sun distance changing

This is inspired by Evidence that the Solar System is expanding like the Universe?, which referenced an article by G. A. Krasinsky and V. A. Brumberg, "Secular Increase of Astronomical Unit from ...
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6answers
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Can the average length of the day and night of a planet be different?

At one point in "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.", some agents are on a planet where the day, defined as the length of time where the sun shines on the planet, occurs only once every 18 years for a ...
20
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3answers
1k views

Direct observations of a black hole?

I'm not very knowledgeable about physics generally, but know that nothing can escape a black hole's gravitational pull, not even light (making them nearly invisible?). My question is: What has been ...
20
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6answers
394 views

Given a photo of the Moon, taken from Earth, is it possible to calculate the position of the photographer's site?

Given a photo of the Moon, taken from Earth, is it possible to calculate the position (Earth longitude and latitude) of the photographer's site? I am thinking about photos taken with a normal camera ...
20
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4answers
14k views

How do astronomers measure the distance to a star or other celestial object?

How do scientists measure the distance between objects in space? For example, Alpha Centauri is 4.3 light years away.
20
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2answers
618 views

Why don't stars in globular clusters all orbit in the same plane?

Globular clusters like Omega Centauri certainly don't seem to be very coplanar at all. In other words, why doesn't the explanation at Why are our planets in the solar system all on the same ...
20
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2answers
730 views

Why aren't gas planets and stars fuzzy? [duplicate]

The edge of Jupiter looks very sharp. Even more bothersome, the edge of the sun looks sharp, aside from kind of a soup of particles floating above it. The sun's surface has an incredibly low ...
20
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2answers
801 views

Optimal telescope size?

Consider a diffraction-limited telescope with unobstructed aperture $D$. Such a scope is capable of yielding an angular resolution $\alpha$ that scales as $\lambda/D$, with $\lambda$ denoting the ...
19
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2answers
5k views

How many stars are in the Milky Way galaxy, and how can we determine this?

I have heard multiple estimates on the quantity of stars within our galaxy, anything from 100 to 400 billion of them. The estimates seem to be increasing for the time being. What are the main methods ...
19
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5answers
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Does the Moon's core still contain significant heat?

On earth, using earth-sheltering techniques can significantly reduce the temperature fluctuations on a structure. Would the same statement be true as well on the Moon? Does the Moon's core still ...
18
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5answers
710 views

Why don't we have a better telescope than the Hubble Space Telescope?

The Hubble Space Telescope (HST) was launched in 1990, more than 20 years ago, but I know that it was supposed to be launched in 1986, 24 years ago. Since it only took 66 years from the fist plane to ...
18
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2answers
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Can a planet have a larger diameter than Jupiter?

I have heard it said that if mass were added to Jupiter, then only its mass and density would increase but the diameter would stay about the same. Is this the case for Jupiter or some property of ...
18
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3answers
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Detectability of interstellar messages

Recently a debate started whether it is a good idea to send more messages into space in the hope of having alien civilizations receive them. There are some predecessors, most notably the 1974 Arecibo ...
18
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3answers
300 views

What happens to the electron companions of cosmic ray protons?

If primary cosmic rays are made mostly of protons, where are the electrons lost, and does this mean that the Earth is positively charged? Does the sun eject protons and electrons in equal number?
18
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2answers
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How would the night sky appear at the edge of the galaxy?

In Isaac Asimov's Foundation Series, there is a planet named Terminus which is believed to be the planet farthest from the galactic center. There are almost no visible stars in its sky, only the ...
18
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2answers
974 views

How deep is the Great Red Spot?

The Great Red Spot (GRS) is a very persistent storm system that's easily visible through a telescope on the surface of Jupiter. But what is the three-dimensional structure of the GRS, and how deep ...
18
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4answers
414 views

How accurate are Mayan astronomical “ephemerides”?

Because of the hype surrounding the "end" of the Mayan calendar (along with the usual cultural relativism and Western guilt) it is nearly impossible to find an objective quantitative assessment of the ...
17
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10answers
315 views

In astronomy what phenomena have theory predicted before observations?

As far as I know, astronomy is generally an observational science. We see something and then try to explain why it is happening. The one exception that I know of is black holes: first it was thought ...
17
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1answer
916 views

What are the alternative theories of dark energy? ($w \neq -1$)

There has been a lot of related questions about dark energy around here but these are usually 2-4 years old and the closest question to mine hasn't really been answered, so I am going to proceed. ...
16
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3answers
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Are there any exact data about Earth's orbit?

Wikipedia says that the Earth's orbit's axis is $a=149\ 598\ 000\ \mathrm{km}$ and its eccentricity is $e=0.016\ 7086$, but if we use these values to find distance at aphelion and perihelion we get ...
16
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5answers
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Can the “Milky Way” galaxy be seen by the naked eye in a clear sky?

Is this photo "real"? Are the stars not super-imposed in the image?    
16
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3answers
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Observing lunar lander and footprints on the moon?

After Apollo 11 first landed on the Moon in 1969, there have been conspiracy theories that this never really happened and that it was all a hoax. In 2010 NASA released photos from its Lunar ...
16
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1answer
268 views

Impact location that created the moon

I was reading an article today about the 1000th orbit of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, and as many of you know NASA created an animation that simulates the history of the moon. It is speculated ...
16
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2answers
562 views

Recommend good book(s) about the “scientific method” as it relates to astronomy/astrophysics?

I am interested in astronomy/astrophysics, but I am not science major (I am a computer science graduate). Facts and results of the field are presented to the public without showing how these ...
16
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4answers
1k views

How would we see a near-lightspeed object emitting light?

Consider an object travelling near the speed of light relative to us (let it be a spaceship or a star), which is emitting light (consider it monochromatic resulting from a two level electronic ...
16
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1answer
4k views

Which way do spiral galaxies rotate?

Is it known whether spiral galaxies typically (or exclusively?) rotate with the arms trailing or facing? Intuitively it feels weird to think of the arms as facing the direction of rotation, but ...
15
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6answers
157 views

What to show a beginner [closed]

At my new job, it's soon going to be my turn for doing night/graveyard shifts for a fair amount of weeks. Perfect excuse to buy a decent beginners telescope to replace the 4.5" 15 y/o Meade that ...
15
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5answers
3k views

What do the colors in false color images represent?

Every kid who first looks into a telescope is shocked to see that everything's black and white. The pretty colors, like those in this picture of the Sleeping Beauty Galaxy (M64), are missing: The ...
15
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3answers
611 views

What is the probability that a star of a given spectral type will have planets?

There is a lot of new data from the various extrasolar planet projects including NASA's Kepler mission on extra-solar planets. Based on our current data what is the probability that a star of each of ...
15
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2answers
4k views

What is the largest observed celestial body?

I'm not referring to phenomena such as galaxies or clusters but rather, what is the largest discrete celestial body that has been observed in the universe?
15
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1answer
1k views

How would one detect antihydrogen in the universe?

Since the spectra of hydrogen and antihydrogen are the same, how do astronomers know which one they're detecting? Is, perhaps, the Lamb shift in antihydrogen different?
15
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2answers
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What if our Sun were located in the middle of a globular cluster?

Say you took our current solar system and relocated it deep in the heart of a globular cluster such as Omega Centauri. What would the night sky look like? Would the starshine of nearby stars be enough ...
15
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3answers
623 views

Winter solstice, sunrise and sunset time

We all know the Winter Solstice comes on December the 20th or 21st, which is (by definition) the shortest day of the year. The Winter Solstice day is not the day of the year the Sun rises later (that ...
15
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2answers
466 views

Does it make sense to continue searching for dark matter on Earth?

The Large Underground Xenon Detector (LUX) recently released results1 that they have found no signs of dark matter2 after a ~3 month search this spring and summer. The LUX group plans to spend all of ...
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Stephen Hawking says universe can create itself from nothing, but how exactly?

Stephen Hawking says in his latest book The Grand Design that, Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Is it not circular logic? I mean, how ...
15
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585 views

Why don't any of the gas giants have moons of Earth's mass (or greater) that orbit them? Is this generalizable to exoplanet gas giants?

Now, we know that the composition of the outer planets tend to contain a much higher ratio of ice over rock. [1] So the lack of Earth-like moons around the outer planets that this could be an artifact ...