Since they first stepped out of the proverbial cave, humans have always been intrigued by the beauty and wonder of the night sky and the almost infinite possibilities of space.
Indeed, astronomy is both the closest and the most distant science from common experience. Every curious person who gazes at the night sky becomes an astronomer, and yet the things we see in outer space are wholly outside our earthbound experience.
That is why astronomy is both the oldest and the youngest science of them all.
Oldest because almost every ancient culture, understanding the need to predict the coming of the seasons, became expert at tracking and predicting the motions of the Sun, Moon and planets. Many of the prehistoric monuments that still exist today are aligned in some astronomical direction or another. The Egyptian Pyramids, Stonehenge, and a panoply of Native American, Mayan and Aztec temples all are complex astronomical observatories designed for direction-finding or the prediction of the planets and seasons.
And yet astronomy is a young science, too. Only in the last century or so have we truly come to understand the size and age of the universe we live in; only in the last fifty or sixty years have we truly begun to understand the physics which drives the universe and makes exotic objects like black holes, neutron stars and a menagerie of other astronomical oddities possible. And finally, only in the last few years have we been able to find planets in orbit around other stars and the real possibility of life beyond the Earth.
It’s no surprise, then, that students, writers of fiction and nonscientists in general are so interested in this particular scientific endeavor. That’s why we, as astronomers, are so anxious to “get the word out,” as they say.
And that’s the purpose of this site. When you send an astronomy question to us, it will be forwarded to one of the participating scientists here at Cornell. Most of us are graduate students studying for PhDs in astronomy, and all of us are actively involved in astronomy research, but we love to take time out from our work to share our knowledge with those who are curious.
We hope you enjoy browsing our site!
Who are We?
Ask an Astronomer is run by volunteers in the Astronomy Department at Cornell University. There are several astronomers involved in maintaining this site and answering the questions sent in. Most of us are graduate students at Cornell, and all of us do this voluntarily, in our own time, fitting it in around our other work. We ask that you take this into consideration when sending in your questions, especially if you are a teacher using this site as part of a class. Please take the time to browse our site and first try to use the resources online to find an answer to your question.
Ask an Astronomer was set up in 1997 by Dave Kornreich when he was a graduate student here at Cornell. He told us that he started it because he thought it would be fun – which it is! Somehow it got picked up by Yahoo and got very popular. We now receive something like 60-70 questions a week (exact statistics).
In September 2001, with seven people involved in “Ask an Astronomer” (Lynn, Malia, Karen, Jagadheep, Dave R., Britt, and Kristine) we decided that it was about time we updated the website. The previously answered questions had got very out of date, and we thought that it might be very helpful if we put more information on the site to help circumvent some of the most basic questions. The updated site is what you are looking at and was launched to the public on May 1st 2002. Since then, “Ask an Astronomer” has continued to flourish, and now in 2009 we have roughly 20 graduate astronomers on hand to answer questions and update the site.
Although there are many good astronomy links, the purpose of this page is to list a dozen or so great websites that have information on many different areas of astronomy or space science. We tried to avoid listing sites that contain a lot of detail about one specific topic only. If you don’t see something that looks helpful here, try choosing a subject from the site menu and looking at the websites listed there!
Archives of Astronomy links:
- Google Astronomy Directory: Part of the Open Directory Project to create an human edited directory for the web.
General Astronomy Sites:
- Amazing Space: Games and activities relating to a wide variety of astronomy subjects. This site was designed for classrooms, but the activities can be used by anyone.
- Astronomy Picture of the Day: A new astronomy picture with a description every day.
- Bad Astronomy: This site has examples and explanations of bad astronomy use by the media. It also has a large section about the “lunar landing hoax.”
- Heavens Above: Look here to find when satellites, the Space Station, and the Space Shuttle will be visible from your location. Sky and constellation maps are available.
- Imagine the Universe: This site has astronomy news, feature articles and projects aimed at high school students and above.
- National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA): Find links to NASA missions and human spaceflight.
- NASA Kids Website: Astronomy information and activities for kids (and adults!).
- Nine Planets Solar System Tour: Descriptions and basic information about the planets, asteroids, and comets in our solar system.
- SEDS: Students for the Exploration and Development of Space. A general site which trys to educate on the benefits of space. They host a lot of good educational resources including the Nine Planets and the Messier Deep Sky Catalog.
- Science@Nasa: The latest news on NASA science and technology. There’s a link to a mirror site in Spanish.
- Sky and Telescope: Look here for hints on getting started in amatuer astronomy; for example, buying and using telescopes. You can also look at star charts and read about what’s currently visible in the sky.
- Sky View. An on-line virtual observatory with a special non-astronomer interface. View pictures of objects in the night sky in many wavelenghts.
- Space.com: This site has current news about spaceflight and astronomy research.
- Space Weather: This web site moniters solar activity and aurorae, and it has information about currently visible comets and asteroids.
- Star Awards: “The Griffith Observatory Star Awards were established to recognize excellence in web sites that promote public awareness of astronomy. These are the best astronomy sites on the World Wide Web, and they present useful, thorough, and accurate information in a well-organized and attractive way, making the sky more accessible.”
- StarChild: This site is aimed at grade school students and has multimedia features on many aspects of astronomy.
- CASCA Education Website: The Canadian Astronomical Society’s Education Website. Lots of great information for kids and educators!
Other Ask an Astronomer Sites:
- Ask an Astronomer at Lick Observatory: Maintained by graduate students at the University of California, Santa Cruz, this site contains a newsletter of recent questions, plus an archive of older questions organized by topic.
- The Astronomy Cafe: NASA scientist Sten Odenwald maintains this site, with two overlapping archives (Ask the Astronomer and Ask the Space Scientist) containing thousands of previous questions. The amount of material on this site is incredible, but the sheer volume can make it hard to find what you’re looking for.
- Ask the Experts at Physlink.com: ask about anything related to Physics or Astronomy. Experts from all over the world can submit their answers and if they are ‘good enough’ (I couldn’t find any more specific criteria like who gets to decide if they are any good) they are put up.
- Google Directory of Experts in Science and Technology: semi comphrehensive list of all the ‘Ask an Expert’ sites in Sciece and Technology on the web.
- The Virtual Reference Desk: this links to the Astronomy section of the Virtual Reference Desk, but you can use this service to find an answer to any question.