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The Astronomy Portal


A man sitting on a chair mounted to a moving platform, staring through a large telescope.

Astronomy (from Greek: ἀστρονομία) is a natural science that studies celestial objects and phenomena. It uses mathematics, physics, and chemistry in order to explain their origin and evolution. Objects of interest include planets, moons, stars, nebulae, galaxies, and comets. Relevant phenomena include supernova explosions, gamma ray bursts, quasars, blazars, pulsars, and cosmic microwave background radiation. More generally, astronomy studies everything that originates outside Earth's atmosphere. Cosmology is a branch of astronomy. It studies the Universe as a whole.

Astronomy is one of the oldest natural sciences. The early civilizations in recorded history made methodical observations of the night sky. These include the Babylonians, Greeks, Indians, Egyptians, Chinese, Maya, and many ancient indigenous peoples of the Americas. In the past, astronomy included disciplines as diverse as astrometry, celestial navigation, observational astronomy, and the making of calendars. Nowadays, professional astronomy is often said to be the same as astrophysics.

Professional astronomy is split into observational and theoretical branches. Observational astronomy is focused on acquiring data from observations of astronomical objects. This data is then analyzed using basic principles of physics. Theoretical astronomy is oriented toward the development of computer or analytical models to describe astronomical objects and phenomena. These two fields complement each other. Theoretical astronomy seeks to explain observational results and observations are used to confirm theoretical results.

Amateurs play an active role in astronomy. It is one of the few sciences in which this is the case. This is especially true for the discovery and observation of transient events. Amateur astronomers have helped with many important discoveries, such as finding new comets.

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The Venusian symbol, a circle with a small equal-armed cross beneath it

Venus is the second planet from the Sun. It is named after the Roman goddess of love and beauty. As the second-brightest natural object in the night sky after the Moon, Venus can cast shadows and, rarely, is visible to the naked eye in broad daylight. Venus lies within Earth's orbit, and so never appears to venture far from the Sun, either setting in the west just after dusk or rising in the east a bit before dawn. Venus orbits the Sun every 224.7 Earth days. With a rotation period of 243 Earth days, it takes longer to rotate about its axis than any planet in the Solar System and does so in the opposite direction to all but Uranus (meaning the Sun rises in the west and sets in the east). Venus does not have any moons, a distinction it shares only with Mercury among planets in the Solar System.

Venus is a terrestrial planet and is sometimes called Earth's "sister planet" because of their similar size, mass, proximity to the Sun, and bulk composition. It is radically different from Earth in other respects. It has the densest atmosphere of the four terrestrial planets, consisting of more than 96% carbon dioxide. The atmospheric pressure at the planet's surface is 92 times that of Earth, or roughly the pressure found 900 m (3,000 ft) underwater on Earth. Venus is by far the hottest planet in the Solar System, with a mean surface temperature of 735 K (462 °C; 863 °F), even though Mercury is closer to the Sun. Venus is shrouded by an opaque layer of highly reflective clouds of sulfuric acid, preventing its surface from being seen from space in visible light. It may have had water oceans in the past, but these would have vaporized as the temperature rose due to a runaway greenhouse effect. The water has probably photodissociated, and the free hydrogen has been swept into interplanetary space by the solar wind because of the lack of a planetary magnetic field. Venus's surface is a dry desertscape interspersed with slab-like rocks and is periodically resurfaced by volcanism. Read more...


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A color-composite image of the Pleiades from the Digitized Sky Survey
Credit: NASA/ESA/AURA/Caltech

In astronomy, the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters (Messier object 45), is an open star cluster containing middle-aged hot B-type stars located in the constellation of Taurus. It is among the nearest star clusters to Earth and is the cluster most obvious to the naked eye in the night sky.

Astronomy News

13 March 2020 – Planets beyond Neptune
Astronomers discover 139 new "minor planets" in the Solar System that are beyond the orbit of Neptune, which helps boost odds of finding Planet Nine. (NBC News)
28 February 2020 –
A meteor explodes over Croatia. The Croatian Astronomical Union say the meteor disintegrated at an altitude of at least 30 kilometers above sea level. The meteor was likely roughly 2 meters across. (Xinhuanet) (The Dubrovnik Times) (JPL)
27 February 2020 –
Astronomers discover the largest known explosion ever in the history of the Universe, which occurred in the Ophiuchus galaxy cluster. It replaces MS 0735.6+7421. As space and ground telescopes that study radio emissions improve (which are better than X-ray observations for detecting these), more similar explosions, or "giant radio fossils", may be found. (Phys) (CNN) (Astrophysics via arXiv at Cornell University)
26 February 2020 –
Astronomers at the Catalina Sky Survey in Arizona, United States, say an object known as 2020 CD3 has been captured by Earth's gravitational field and has been in orbit since 2017, becoming a temporary natural satellite of Earth. The Minor Planet Center confirms the findings and says "no link to a known artificial object has been found", implying the object is an asteroid. (New Scientist)
7 October 2019 –
Astronomers announce the discovery of 20 new moons around Saturn, adding to the 62 previously known. The new moons comprise 17 retrograde moons in the Norse group and three prograde moons, two of which belong to the Inuit group. (
12 September 2019 – Interstellar objects
C/2019 Q4 (Borisov), a second interstellar comet after ʻOumuamua in 2017, is discovered by an amateur astronomer. (BBC)

April anniversaries

  • 3 April 2014 – NASA announces that the Cassini orbiter has found evidence of an underground body of water on Enceladus, a moon of Saturn
  • 12 April 1961 – Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin becomes the first human to enter outer space when he is launched into orbital flight in Vostok 1
  • 19 April 1971 – The first space station, Salyut 1, is launched into orbit
  • 24 April 1990 – The Hubble Space Telescope, a powerful research tool and public relations boon for astronomy, is launched into orbit

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Astronomical events

All times UT unless otherwise specified. Portal:Astronomy/Events/April 2020


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