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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30
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8answers
9k views

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 ...
28
votes
4answers
428 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 ...
26
votes
4answers
5k views

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 ...
26
votes
4answers
2k views

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 ...
25
votes
8answers
17k views

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 ...
22
votes
3answers
1k views

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 ...
19
votes
3answers
10k views

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 ...
19
votes
2answers
645 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 ...
18
votes
3answers
710 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 ...
18
votes
5answers
232 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 ...
18
votes
2answers
1k views

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
votes
6answers
4k views

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 ...
18
votes
2answers
425 views

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
votes
3answers
198 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
votes
2answers
468 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 ...
18
votes
2answers
271 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 ...
18
votes
4answers
357 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
votes
5answers
332 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 ...
17
votes
4answers
1k views

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 ...
17
votes
1answer
572 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 ...
16
votes
2answers
272 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
votes
2answers
558 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 ...
16
votes
4answers
860 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 ...
15
votes
6answers
105 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
votes
5answers
2k 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
votes
3answers
2k views

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 ...
15
votes
2answers
4k 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 ...
15
votes
2answers
2k views

Dumbed-down explanation how scientists know the number of atoms in the universe?

It is often quoted that the number of atoms in the universe is 10$^{70}$ or 10$^{80}$. How do scientists determine this number? And how accurate is it (how strong is the supporting evidences for ...
14
votes
5answers
24k views

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?    
14
votes
5answers
2k views

Telescope for 6 year old and dad new to astronomy

What's a good telescope for my 6 year old? We're both brand new to telescopes in general, but love space, stars, planets, cosmology, etc. Happy to spend up to $200 to start. Maybe more for a good ...
14
votes
4answers
6k 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.
14
votes
3answers
6k views

Do all the individual stars that we can see in the night sky belong to Milky Way?

I was wondering if all the stars that we can see with the unaided eye as distinct point sources are from our own galaxy? In other words, can we see stars from the Andromeda Galaxy or other galaxies ...
14
votes
4answers
317 views

How far would you need to displace your eyes to get meaningful depth perception of the stars?

The question follows from xkcd cartoon "Depth Perception (941)". I've isolated the frames that describe the concept here. In words, one could theoretically point two cameras at the sky, and ...
14
votes
3answers
266 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 ...
14
votes
2answers
382 views

What percent of planets are in the position that they could be viewed edge-on from Earth? (and thus able to undergo transits)

Star number 12644769 from the Kepler Input Catalog was identified as an eclipsing binary with a 41-day period, from the detection of its mutual eclipses (9). Eclipses occur because the orbital ...
14
votes
2answers
720 views

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 ...
14
votes
1answer
2k 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 ...
14
votes
2answers
417 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 ...
13
votes
10answers
233 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 ...
13
votes
5answers
85 views

How do you respond to questions like “Have you ever observed a UFO?” [closed]

This is a question that astronomers get asked by the public regularly, and I'm curious to see how others respond.
13
votes
2answers
2k views

Is it possible to 3D print a mirror to create a high quality telescope?

Is it possible to 3D print a mirror with todays available materials? If so, would there be a reduction in image quality?
13
votes
2answers
641 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?
13
votes
1answer
199 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 ...
13
votes
3answers
196 views

How are newly discovered objects (stars, planets, galaxies…) named?

When a new astronomical object (star, planet, galaxy, comet, etc.) is discovered, what is the official procedure to name it? Who decides about the name of it? Can they be changed in time? Extra ...
13
votes
3answers
410 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 ...
13
votes
4answers
704 views

Is there a limit to the resolving power of a mirror telescope?

Like, if you hammered out the asteroid 16 Psyche into a 1 mm thick iron foil disc telescope mirror with 2.4x the radius of the Sun, could you resolve details on the surface of an exoplanet? At what ...
13
votes
1answer
515 views

What percentage of the sky is occluded by stars?

If you drew rays from the center of the earth out to infinity at every angle, what percentage of them would intersect a star? Extra details: Assume the rays are mathematical rays, or that they ...
12
votes
6answers
5k views

Why is the mapped universe shaped like an hourglass?

I've watched a video from the American National History Museum entitled The Known Universe. The video shows a continuous animation zooming out from earth to the entire known universe. It claims to ...
12
votes
5answers
3k views

Does Earth have a code name?

Everything we discover in the sky get eventually a code name, like NGC 7293, Simeis 147, etc. Does Earth/Moon have a code name too? Or it is just Earth/Moon, etc.?
12
votes
2answers
119 views

What is the most distant object from the Earth that a spacecraft has visited to date?

What is the most distant object from the earth that a spacecraft visited has visited so far? What was the mission and when did it happen?