The Astronomy Portal

Introduction

A man sitting on a chair mounted to a moving platform, staring through a large telescope.
Percival Lowell observing Venus from the Lowell Observatory telescope in 1914

Astronomy is a natural science that studies celestial objects and the phenomena that occur in the cosmos. It uses mathematics, physics, and chemistry in order to explain their origin and their overall evolution. Objects of interest include planets, moons, stars, nebulae, galaxies, meteoroids, asteroids, 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 beyond Earth's atmosphere. Cosmology is a branch of astronomy that 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 Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks, Indians, 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.

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.

Astronomy is one of the few sciences in which amateurs play an active role. 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. (Full article...)

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Artist's illustration showing the life of a massive star as nuclear fusion converts lighter elements into heavier ones. When fusion no longer generates enough pressure to counteract gravity, the star rapidly collapses to form a black hole. Theoretically, energy may be released during the collapse along the axis of rotation to form a GRB.

In gamma-ray astronomy, gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) are immensely energetic explosions that have been observed in distant galaxies, described by NASA as "the most powerful class of explosions in the universe". They are the most energetic and luminous electromagnetic events since the Big Bang. Bursts can last from ten milliseconds to several hours. After an initial flash of gamma rays, a longer-lived "afterglow" is usually emitted at longer wavelengths (X-ray, ultraviolet, optical, infrared, microwave and radio).

The intense radiation of most observed GRBs is thought to be released during a supernova or superluminous supernova as a high-mass star implodes to form a neutron star or a black hole. A subclass of GRBs appears to originate from the merger of binary neutron stars. (Full article...)

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Credit: Casey Reed - Penn State University

A radio-quiet neutron star is a neutron star that does not seem to emit radio emissions, but is still visible to Earth through electromagnetic radiation at other parts of the spectrum, particularly X-rays and gamma rays. Artist's illustration of an 'isolated neutron star' -- one without associated supernova remnants or binary companions.

Astronomy News

20 February 2024 –
Astronomers identify the most luminous object ever observed, QSO J0529-4351, a quasar that accretes around one solar mass per day. (The Guardian) (Nature.com)
24 November 2023 –
Astronomers at the Telescope Array Project in Utah, United States, observe the second largest cosmic ray ever detected, the so-called Amaterasu particle, with an energy of 244 EeV. (Cosmos Magazine)

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All times UT unless otherwise specified. Portal:Astronomy/Events/March 2024

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