Questions tagged [observational-astronomy]

Questions about the techniques and practice of observing the night sky.

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71 votes
4 answers
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How does the Earth move in the sky as seen from the Moon?

I just want to be sure I am visualizing this correctly, because it seems odd. The Moon is tidally locked to the Earth but there are wobbles to its motion due to libration. So from a point on the ...
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58 votes
6 answers
7k views

Why hasn't the "9th Planet" been detected already?

In the comments to this question, there was considerable doubt placed as to the subject of if the so called "9th planet" really exists. That wasn't really the intent of the previous question, so I ask ...
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47 votes
3 answers
13k views

If Earth is tilted, why is Polaris always above the same spot?

Why is Polaris, the North Star, always above (or near) the North Pole? If Earth is tilted, Polaris' path should be in winter 23 degrees away from its path in summer, or not?
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37 votes
3 answers
837 views

If you lived on the far side of the Moon, how could you infer the existence of Earth?

Suppose that you deposit an astronomer, armed with our current knowledge of orbital mechanics, on a dome on the far side of the Moon, so that the Earth is perpetually hidden from them. (And, of ...
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34 votes
2 answers
5k views

How was the mass of Venus determined?

The mass of Venus seems rather complicated to determine to me: Venus doesn't have any satellites, so you can't just apply Kepler's third law (like you would with Jupiter or Saturn for instance) to ...
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34 votes
3 answers
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Can Pluto be seen with the naked eye from Neptune when Pluto and Neptune are closest?

When Neptune and Pluto are closest, about 100 million mi (160 million km) from each other, would an observer on Neptune (or rather on one of its moons, since Neptune is gaseous) be able to see Pluto, ...
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31 votes
1 answer
2k views

Why is there a gap in this image of supernova discoveries?

I came across this gif showing supernova discoveries from the late 19th century to 2010. Here's the data in 2010: Notice that there's a prominent region shaped like an inverted U in which there are ...
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31 votes
2 answers
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Which of the planets would be detected if they were exoplanets?

An (almost-)omnipotent being selects the solar system, presses Ctrl+C, and then Ctrl+V several times, creating copies at distances of 5, 500, 50.000, and 5.000.000 light-years away. All in a direction ...
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29 votes
3 answers
3k views

Why can't we observe the Oort cloud with a telescope?

The Oort cloud is a hypothetical structure based on our observation of long-period comets. There are currently proposals to design probes to confirm the existence of the Oort cloud. Now, sending a ...
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28 votes
1 answer
5k views

How is it possible that we haven't discovered anything in the Oort cloud yet?

The Oort cloud is a hypothetical cloud of small icy bodies surrounding the Sun at more than 1000 AU. It is thought to be a vast reservoir of comets that occasionally get disrupted, sending comets ...
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27 votes
1 answer
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Why is the summer solstice night shorter than the winter solstice day?

I was looking at the sunrise and sunset times where I live (Aberdeen, Scotland) and I noticed something odd: the time between sunrise and sunset in winter is longer than the time between sunset and ...
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25 votes
5 answers
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Is it possible to do planet observation during the day?

Keep in mind I'm just a newbie. So.... I have a new Newtonian telescope. It has 150mm opening and 1400mm Focal Distance on top of an equatorial mount. I have 25 and 10 mm eyepieces... and a 2x Barlow. ...
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25 votes
4 answers
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Are there any double stars that I can actually see orbit each other?

If I had a nice amateur telescope†, are there any multiple star systems that I could observe over a few years or a few decades and actually see the movement of one or both of them over time? My short ...
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24 votes
8 answers
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Why can't we see distant galaxies with the naked eye?

If light keeps travelling in a straight line, why can't we see distant galaxies with the naked eye? Surely if you stared long enough, the light from them would eventually hit your eye? I apologize if ...
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23 votes
3 answers
3k views

How can I measure the angle between two stars?

This is a backyard astronomy question. My middle-school-aged son and I would like to measure the apparent angle between two easily-visible stars more precisely than measuring with our outstretched ...
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  • 343
23 votes
1 answer
6k views

Why can't observatories just stop capturing for a few seconds when Starlink satellites pass though their field of view?

Given that the positions and trajectories of the Starlink satellites are public, why can't the telescopes just ignore the photons they receive when the satellites pass through the field of view? It ...
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22 votes
6 answers
8k views

Puzzling quotes from astronauts about earth size

I have no doubt that we have been to the moon. This question has nothing to do with a moon landing hoax. But, there are two quotes from two different astronauts regarding the size of the earth as ...
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22 votes
2 answers
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What ground-based observational evidence is there that the Moon doesn't have an atmosphere?

The Moon doesn't have any significant atmosphere (surface pressure is $3\times10^{-15}$ bar). Can the absence of atmosphere on the Moon be determined with ground-based observations? When was it first ...
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  • 16.8k
22 votes
2 answers
4k views

Please check my Mars photo

Hi built my own newtonian telescope for the first time. Up until that point I had never used a telescope. Can you please look at the photos attached and tell me if this is what Mars should look like ...
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22 votes
2 answers
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At what distance from Earth would our Sun be the same apparent magnitude as the next brightest star in the sky?

When I stand outside looking at the night sky, to my untrained eye, everything except the moon looks like a star. I know intellectually that some are planets circling our sun, and some are entire ...
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22 votes
2 answers
2k views

Why are wavelengths shorter than visible light neglected by new telescopes?

The diagram below, which I stole from this post by @HDE226868, shows that angular resolution as a function of wavelength suddenly drops by three orders of magnitudes from visible to UV-light. The ...
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21 votes
4 answers
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Where is it possible to observe the Moon for 24 hours?

I wrote an astronomy olympiad yesterday and there was one task I couldn't figure out an answer to: Estimate at what latitudes it is possible to observe the Moon for at least 24 hours. Under what ...
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21 votes
5 answers
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How was Trappist-1 discovered?

I was going through all the questions in this community related to TRAPPIST-1 in order to know how planets TRAPPIST-1b to TRAPPIST-1h were discovered, but there aren't any. How were they discovered?
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21 votes
1 answer
3k views

Why doesn't dark matter clump strongly in the center of galaxies, since it doesn't feel either radiation pressure or the Pauli exclusion effect?

Dark matter is described as being spread not only throughout a galaxy, but also around it in a halo of some sort that extends far beyond the visible parts of the galaxy... In fact, dark matter haloes ...
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21 votes
2 answers
1k views

How will Starlink affect observational astronomy?

I have recently found that people around the world have been posting observations of a line of moving objects in the sky which is very likely to be a part of Starlink satellite constellation, such ...
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20 votes
2 answers
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Why will HD 84406 be chosen as the first target for testing JWST?

HD 84406, is a star approximately 241 light-years away in the constellation of Ursa Major. HD 84406 will be the first star to be imaged by the James Webb Space Telescope in order to test the focus of ...
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20 votes
2 answers
2k views

When was the martian dichotomy first observed?

The North and South hemispheres of Mars are very different one from another. They have different elevations, different crust thickness, different surface ages. This is known as the martian dichotomy. ...
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20 votes
1 answer
424 views

How often do comets survive passage by the Sun?

I had heard that comet ISON might not survive a close pass by our Sun, and I was curious about the odds of how other comets had fared. So, how often do other comets survive a close pass by our sun? ...
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19 votes
6 answers
6k views

Why do small mirror imperfections matter with modern computers

Modern telescopes go to great lengths to have perfectly shaped parabolic mirrors. My question is, why go to the trouble of having a perfect mirror? Why not take a mirror roughly the right shape, and ...
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19 votes
3 answers
3k views

Why can space telescopes see through a planetary nebula?

I recently read the book "An Introduction to Planetary Nebulae" by Jason J. Nishiyama. Although I'm not an astronomy student, I could at least understand the written texts and less the ...
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19 votes
2 answers
2k views

Are there any galaxies which fell out of sight horizon due to cosmic expansion?

If farthest galaxies run away from us with acceleration making them exceed speed of light, we should expect them to disappear from sky among time with increasing quantity. Did we observe this? Can we ...
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19 votes
4 answers
12k views

How Would a Neutron Star Actually Appear?

Having seen many pictures produced by artists of neutron stars and planets that orbit some of them, I was wondering how a pulsar would appear to a human being, in visible light (assuming the intense ...
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18 votes
4 answers
4k views

What's the difference between minutes and arcminutes?

I read in trigonometry class that 1 minute is equal to 1/60 degrees. So, 'minute' is an angular unit. But also 'arcminutes' are used to measure seperation between celestial objects and also equals to ...
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18 votes
2 answers
3k views

Why does the Fourier transform of this CMB image have a hole in it?

The BBC's Desert telescope takes aim at ageing our Universe contains the image below of the Cosmic Microwave Background from the Atacama Cosmology Telescope or ACT. It looks like this is plotted with ...
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18 votes
2 answers
2k views

How can astronomers pinpoint the location of the source of a neutrino?

In the popular press, in recent months, we have heard a lot about high-energy neutrinos from far outside our solar system reaching our detectors.... But I wonder... If a single neutrino from a great ...
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18 votes
2 answers
692 views

Did nobody in the Astronomy community think 12,000 new satellites in LEO might be a problem?

This answer to Can / should the Starlink satellites be blackened? mentions Space News' SpaceX working on fix for Starlink satellites so they don’t disrupt astronomy where SpaceX chief operating ...
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18 votes
1 answer
431 views

Have we ever observed a body, such as a large asteroid, "hitting" the Sun?

Some other SE questions about launching ICBM's into the sun got me wondering whether we have ever observed an object on a path that intersected with the Sun? How close did it get?
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18 votes
2 answers
622 views

How long should it take for us to observationally determine if Caltech's Planet Nine is really there?

Caltech just released a report that says there is possibly a large (10 earth mass) planet in a remote orbit (10 - 20 thousand year) that explains a lot of observations of Kuiper Belt objects. How long ...
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17 votes
1 answer
3k views

Has Hawking Radiation Ever Been Observed?

I know Hawking Radiation has firm theoretical footing, but has a signal ever actually been observed? What observational research is being done to attempt to see this effect? Is it simply too tall an ...
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17 votes
1 answer
3k views

Why does the moon sometimes appear giant and a orange red color near the horizon?

I've read various ideas about why the moon looks larger on the horizon. The most reasonable one in my opinion is that it is due to how our brain calculates (perceives) distance, with objects high ...
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16 votes
3 answers
2k views

What is the probability of seeing a neutron star as a pulsar?

Pulsars are neutron stars that emit a beam of electromagnetic radiation that is not aligned with its rotation axis. If the Earth passes through that beam of radiation, we see a pulsar. Pulsars are ...
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16 votes
1 answer
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The newly discovered comet NEOWISE has been given the name C/2020 F3. What is the meaning of the F3 and the C in this name?

The new comet C/2020 F3 was first spotted by NASA's NEOWISE satellite in March 2020. It is now visible in the NE sky just before dawn. The C may refer to it's non-periodic nature (so far). What does ...
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16 votes
2 answers
2k views

How do satellites impede current telescopes?

As we send up more and more satellites, it stands to reason that our view of the universe becomes more and more obscured. I would certainly expect for example that a large telescope such as the LSST ...
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16 votes
2 answers
1k views

Are there neutron stars whose magnetic axis and rotating axis are the same, and if so what will happen?

I know that there's probably a higher chance of having a neutron star that has its magnetic axis inclined to the rotational axis rather than having it perfectly aligned. If they are not aligned, the ...
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16 votes
1 answer
1k views

Will LSST make a significant increase in the rate of astronomical event alerts?

The NPR news article and podcast New Telescope Promises To Revolutionize Astronomy updates the status of the "Large Synoptic Survey Telescope under construction on Cerro Pachón in Chile". NPR's Joe ...
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16 votes
1 answer
1k views

What is the object in this photo?

What object is in this photo? View coordinates: $47.25103 \ \ 38.81697$ Time: $2013$-$11$-$23 ~21$:$00 +4 ~UTC$ Sony $A580, \ 50mm f/1.4 15"$
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  • 273
16 votes
1 answer
288 views

How can an amateur astronomer verify the position of near Earth objects?

Sometimes, hobby-astronomers use rather professional means to observe the big voids of space. Every now and then (think in months, not days) even I can locate an NEO (near Earth object). Now, I'm ...
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  • 1,640
15 votes
8 answers
4k views

Has great eyesight been necessary for astronomers?

In a different (but somewhat related) field, some baseball stars have been known to have "baseball eyes." That is, an exceptional ability to visually follow the trajectory of a 90+ mph baseball to a ...
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  • 339
15 votes
2 answers
3k views

Has radio astronomy ever been done on objects that appear very close to the Moon? Is this avoided?

This answer to Which kinds of astronomical observations most need to avoid the Moon being up? mentions For completeness - radio, mid-infrared and mm-wave observations are unaffected (unless the ...
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15 votes
6 answers
2k views

How "fast" do astronomical events occur?

I've seen quite a few news about astronomy but I'm not deep into knowing how it works or how people observe it. It got me thinking: if I want to watch a supernova for example, how long will I have to ...
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