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The Astronomy Portal

Astronomy portal

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

Astronomy is a natural science that is the study of celestial objects (such as moons, planets, stars, nebulae, and galaxies), the physics, chemistry, and evolution of such objects, and phenomena that originate outside the atmosphere of Earth, including supernovae explosions, gamma ray bursts, and cosmic background radiation.

Astronomy is one of the oldest sciences. Prehistoric cultures have left astronomical artifacts such as the Egyptian monuments and Nubian monuments, and early civilizations such as the Babylonians, Greeks, Chinese, Indians, Iranians and Maya performed methodical observations of the night sky. However, the invention of the telescope was required before astronomy was able to develop into a modern science. Historically, astronomy has included disciplines as diverse as astrometry, celestial navigation, observational astronomy, and the making of calendars, but professional astronomy is nowadays often considered to be synonymous with astrophysics.

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June 1997 HST/STIS Image of the optical afterglow of GRB 970508
GRB 970508 was a gamma-ray burst (GRB) detected on May 8, 1997, at 21:42 UTC. A gamma-ray burst is a highly luminous flash associated with an explosion in a distant galaxy and producing gamma rays, the most energetic form of electromagnetic radiation, and often followed by a longer-lived "afterglow" emitted at longer wavelengths (X-ray, ultraviolet, optical, infrared, and radio).

GRB 970508 was detected by the Gamma Ray Burst Monitor on the Italian–Dutch X-ray astronomy satellite BeppoSAX. Astronomer Mark Metzger determined that GRB 970508 occurred at least 6 billion light years from Earth; this was the first measurement of the distance to a gamma-ray burst.

Until this burst, astronomers had not reached a consensus regarding how far away GRBs occur from Earth. Some supported the idea that GRBs occur within the Milky Way, but are visibly faint because they are not highly energetic. Others concluded that GRBs occur in other galaxies at cosmological distances and are extremely energetic. Although the possibility of multiple types of GRBs meant that the two theories were not mutually exclusive, the distance measurement unequivocally placed the source of the GRB outside the Milky Way, effectively ending the debate.

GRB 970508 was also the first burst with an observed radio frequency afterglow. By analyzing the fluctuating strength of the radio signals, astronomer Dale Frail calculated that the source of the radio waves had expanded almost at the speed of light. This provided strong evidence that GRBs are relativistically expanding explosions.

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Astronomy : Archaeoastronomy - Astrophysics - Calendars - Catalogues - Celestial coordinate system - Celestial mechanics - Cosmology - Images - Large-scale structure of the cosmos - Observatories - Planetary science - Telescopes - Universe

Biographies : Astronomers - Other people - Amateur Astronomers

Astronomical objects : Lists - Galaxies - Nebulae - Planets - Stars

Spaceflight : Human spaceflight - Satellites - SETI - Spacecraft


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WikiProject Astronomy WikiProject Solar System

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WikiProject Astronomical objects WikiProject Spaceflight

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A large sunspot group
Credit: NASA

Sunspots are temporary phenomena on the surface of the Sun (the photosphere) that appear visibly as dark spots compared to surrounding regions. They are caused by intense magnetic activity, which inhibits convection, forming areas of reduced surface temperature. Although they are at temperatures of roughly 3,000–4,500 K (4,940–7,640 °F), the contrast with the surrounding material at about 5,780 K leaves them clearly visible as dark spots, as the intensity of a heated black body (closely approximated by the photosphere) is a function of T (temperature) to the fourth power.

December anniversaries

  • 14 December 1962 - Mariner 2 becomes the first space probe to perform a flyby of a planet, when it passes within 35,000 kilometers of Venus
  • 19 December 2013 - Gaia was launched. Its mission is to study billions of stars in the Milky Way
  • 21 December 1968 - Apollo 8, the first crewed spacecraft to leave Earth orbit, reach the Moon, orbit it, and return safely to Earth, is launched

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Astronomical events

All times UT unless otherwise specified.

6 December, 12:27 Full moon
8 December, 09:54 Mercury at superior conjunction
12 December, 23:00 Moon at apogee
14 December, 09:00 Geminids peak
21 December, 23:03 Earth southern solstice
22 December, 01:36 New moon
24 December, 16:34 Moon at perigee