The Astronomy Portal

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 applies mathematics, physics, and chemistry in an effort to explain the origin of those objects and phenomena and their evolution. Objects of interest include planets, moons, stars, galaxies, and comets; the phenomena include supernova explosions, gamma ray bursts, and cosmic microwave background radiation. More generally, all phenomena that originate outside Earth's atmosphere are within the purview of astronomy. A related but distinct subject is physical cosmology, which is the study of the Universe as a whole.

Astronomy is one of the oldest of the natural sciences. The early civilizations in recorded history, such as the Babylonians, Greeks, Indians, Egyptians, Nubians, Iranians, Chinese, Maya, and many ancient indigenous peoples of the Americas, performed methodical observations of the night sky. Historically, astronomy has included disciplines as diverse as astrometry, celestial navigation, observational astronomy, and the making of calendars, but professional astronomy is now often considered to be synonymous with astrophysics.

Professional astronomy is split into observational and theoretical branches. Observational astronomy is focused on acquiring data from observations of astronomical objects, which 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. The two fields complement each other, with theoretical astronomy seeking to explain observational results and observations being used to confirm theoretical results.

Astronomy is one of the few sciences in which amateurs still play an active role, especially in the discovery and observation of transient events. Amateur astronomers have made and contributed to many important astronomical discoveries, such as finding new comets.

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Titan in natural colour as seen from Cassini
Titan (/ˈttən/, or as Ancient Greek: Τῑτάν), or Saturn VI, is the largest moon of Saturn, the only natural satellite known to have a dense atmosphere, and the only object other than Earth for which clear evidence of stable bodies of surface liquid has been found.

Titan is the sixth ellipsoidal moon from Saturn. Frequently described as a planet-like moon, Titan has a diameter roughly 50% larger than Earth's moon and is 80% more massive. It is the second-largest moon in the Solar System, after Jupiter's moon Ganymede, and it is larger by volume than the smallest planet, Mercury, although only half as massive. Titan was the first known moon of Saturn, discovered in 1655 by the Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens.

Titan is primarily composed of water ice and rocky material. Much as with Venus until the Space Age, the dense, opaque atmosphere prevented understanding of Titan's surface until new information accumulated with the arrival of the Cassini–Huygens mission in 2004, including the discovery of liquid hydrocarbon lakes in the satellite's polar regions. These are the only large, stable bodies of surface liquid known to exist anywhere other than Earth. The surface is geologically young; although mountains and several possible cryovolcanoes have been discovered, it is smooth and few impact craters have been discovered.

The atmosphere of Titan is largely composed of nitrogen, and its climate includes methane and ethane clouds. The climate—including wind and rain—creates surface features that are similar to those on Earth, such as sand dunes and shorelines, and, like Earth, is dominated by seasonal weather patterns. With its liquids (both surface and subsurface) and robust nitrogen atmosphere, Titan is viewed as analogous to the early Earth, although at a much lower temperature. The satellite has thus been cited as a possible host for microbial extraterrestrial life or, at least, as a prebiotic environment rich in complex organic chemistry. Researchers have suggested a possible underground liquid ocean might serve as a biotic environment.

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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.

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All times UT unless otherwise specified.

6 November, 15:30 Mercury at greatest eastern elongation
7 November, 16:02 New moon
12 November, 18:13 Moon occults Pluto
14 November, 15:58 Moon at apogee
16 November, 04:17 Moon occults Mars
17 November, 23:00 Leonids peak
23 November, 05:39 Full moon
26 November, 06:33 Jupiter at conjunction
26 November, 12:21 Moon at perigee
27 November, 09:12 Mercury at inferior conjunction

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