sci.astro is a newsgroup devoted to the discussion of the science of astronomy. As such its content ranges from the Earth to the farthest reaches of the Universe.
However, certain questions tend to appear fairly regularly. This document attempts to summarize answers to these questions.
This document is posted on the first and third Wednesdays of each month to the newsgroup sci.astro. It is available via anonymous ftp, and it is on the World Wide Web at the sci.astro FAQ site and Internet FAQ Archives. A partial list of worldwide mirrors (both ftp and Web) is also available. (As a general note, many other FAQs are also available from rtfm.mit.edu.)
Questions/comments/flames should be directed to the FAQ maintainer, Joseph Lazio <email@example.com>.
[Dates in brackets are last edit.]
What are the sci.astro* newsgroups about? [1999-11-04]
How do I subscribe to sci.astro*? [1998-02-28]
What should I do if I see an article that doesn't follow these guidelines? (What about cranks?) [1997-02-04]
Can I get help on my homework from the Net? [1995-07-26]
Which observatories offer tours or public viewing? [1995-09-17]
Is there a list of astro jokes? [1999-12-15]
Are there other sources of information? [1996-01-24]
How can I find an astronomy club? [1996-01-24]
There are eight groups in the sci.astro hierarchy:
Astronomy discussions and information
Amateur astronomy equipment, techniques, info, etc.
The Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence (SETI)
Issues related to the Flexible Image Transport System
Processing Hubble Space Telescope data. (Moderated)
Discussion of planetariums
Forum in astronomy/astrophysics research. (Moderated)
Visual observing of artificial satellites
Each group except sci.astro has a charter that defines appropriate postings. You can get the full charters via anonymous ftp.
By default, everything that is related to astronomy/astrophysics and is not covered by one of the other sci.astro.* groups is acceptable for posting in sci.astro. If something belongs in one of those groups, then it does not belong in sci.astro and should NOT be (cross)posted there. In particular, this includes all amateur observations, hardware, software, and trade (see sci.astro.amateur).
The sci.astro hierarchy is not the appropriate forum for metaphysical discussions. There are other groups for that (e.g. alt.paranet.metaphysics). Neither is it the right group to discuss astrology (alt.astrology is), which has nothing to do with astronomy, or topics such as creationism (talk.origins for that). This is a science group, not one for religion, sociology, or philosophy (even of science).
In addition, a number of topics related to astrophysics are better suited for other groups. For instance, elementary particle physics should be discussed in sci.physics.particle (but discussions of astronomical consequences are welcome in astro groups). Likewise for photons and the speed of light (sci.physics). Finally, all space related issues (e.g. spacecraft and faster than light/time travel) have a home in the sci.space.* hierarchy (but astronomical results from space missions are welcome).
(I've answered this question offline enough times that I thought it would be worthwhile to include it here. The FAQ is distributed widely enough that people may happen upon it through non-Usenet channels.)
In order to access sci.astro, you need an internet service provider (ISP). This could be a large commercial provider, like AOL or Prodigy in the U.S., or a more local one (check your phonebook under "Computer Networks" or "Internet"). If you're enrolled at a college or university in the U.S. (or overseas?), talk to your computer center; many colleges and universities are now providing free Internet access to students. If you don't have an ISP, you'll have to choose one. If you're interested in reading the sci.astro groups, as you search for an ISP, you'll want to ask the various contenders if they provide access to Usenet and specifically to the sci. hierarchy. If they don't, or can't tell you, that's a bad sign.
If you already have an ISP, you'll have to read their documentation or talk to their tech help. Some ISPs provide Usenet access through a Web browser (like Mosaic, Netscape, or Internet Explorer), others provide access through a dedicated news reading program like tin, rn, or GNUS. There are many different possibilities.
If you will follow this group for a month or so before posting here, you will greatly reduce the likelihood that you will participate in making the newsgroup less productive and friendly and then end up regretting it. If you are new here, it is likely that any question you have has already been asked. If so, its answer is probably in one of the FAQ files. Check out the newsgroups news.answers, sci.answers, and news.announce.newusers, or ask your local help file or administrator to point you toward the FAQs. Also, please check an Usenet archive like Google to see if somebody has posted a comment or query similar to yours recently. If you become really frustrated, pick on one of the more helpful posters here and send e-mail (not a post) politely asking for some help. Conversely, if your question is novel and not in a FAQ, readers will likely be intensely interested in considering it.
Certain topics repeatedly come up and lead to lengthy, loud-mouthed discussions that never lead anywhere interesting. Often these topics have extremely little to do with the science of astronomy. Experience also shows that when messages are cross-posted to other groups, followups very seldom are appropriate in sci.astro. It would also help if you would ask yourself a few simple questions before posting:
Is this post about the science of astronomy? Will many of the thousands and thousands of readers here, people interested in the science of astronomy, find it of personal benefit? Is it unique or has something similar been posted recently?
If you do ask a question, please consider writing up the answer for a FAQ file. New entries to the FAQ are always welcome!
There are also a number of common rules for all newsgroups. The following types of posts are not acceptable (see the newsgroup news.announce.newusers and its FAQs at rtfm.mit.edu for more details):
advertising (other than announcement of availability of products of direct use to people interested in astronomy without any kind of hype);
late breaking news (e.g., "CNN just announced that..."), although questions about recent announcements are acceptable;
questions answered in the FAQ: always check the appropriate FAQ before asking a question;
answers to questions covered by these or other FAQs or posts saying that the answer is in the FAQ. Instead send email to the poster with a pointer to the relevant FAQ. If you have a better answer to a FAQ, by all means contact the maintainer!
personal messages (e.g. "Looking for..."), especially if it is because you cannot reach your party by e-mail;
test messages (there are dedicated groups for that);
corrections to your own posts, especially if it is just a missing signature or an obvious typo (but if the error was a significant one that will not be obvious to readers, a correcting post may be justified);
"me too" messages: if someone posts a request for something you would like to get and asks for a reply by e-mail, do NOT post an article to say you want it too (instead send e-mail to the person who posted the request and ask to have the information forwarded to you by e-mail).
Also, please try to follow the following USENET guidelines when posting:
keep your text under 72 columns wide and make sure lines have a newline character at the end; do not insert any control character; do not use all upper or all lower cases (mix them);
post the same message only once (it may not appear immediately on your news server, but that does not mean that the rest of the world has not received it yet)---only if your news software tells you it could not post the article should you try to post it again (but make sure you cancel previous posts);
unless you have something to say that is of interest to all/most readers, reply to the poster by e-mail instead of following up on the group (think carefully about this);
keep in mind that private e-mail is copyrighted by law, and that you may not post it (in whole or in part) without the author's permission;
before following up, check all other articles in the group for potential followups that might make what you were going to say useless to say;
when following up, check the headers (especially newsgroups) and edit appropriately (especially the subject line if you are changing topics);
do not quote the entire post you are following up (trim to the minimum amount of text needed to make your message understood, and eliminate signatures and useless headers);
avoid posting the same message to more than one group; crosspost ONLY if the subject is CLEARLY of EQUAL interest to several groups (check the FAQs and charters for all groups in the hierarchy to decide where to post);
You may come to this newsgroup in search of information and productive discussion. Others may have different motives. Their posts are often pretty sophisticated in that they have been designed and tested to be effective in pushing your hot buttons. And please bear in mind that some of these people will come into possession of new identities and will post something that sure looks like it comes from a hapless newbie.
DO NOT POST A FOLLOWUP UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES!
To reemphasize, you should NOT post anything in response to an inappropriate post in sci.astro. Other readers are probably as annoyed as you are by that post, and the last thing they/you want is to waste their/your time/disk space by adding more useless articles and fueling a useless discussion.
What should you do then? Ignore people you consider crackpots (sometimes a.k.a. cranks) altogether: do not send them e-mail, do not refer to their posts or even name in your messages. Just pretend they do not exist and they will go away! Why? Because attention and an opportunity to argue is all they are looking for. Ignoring them is the ONLY way to deal with them.
One particularly easy way to ignore people is to use a KILL file. KILL files allow you to specify that you do not want to see any articles on a certain topic or by a certain person. If used, they can increase your enjoyment of sci.astro considerably. The creation and maintenance depends upon the particular newsreader you use, but you may want to consult the KILL file FAQ (also available via anonymous ftp).
What about spams? Spams are the posting of a totally
irrelevant (often commercial) message to several (often many) groups
by people who are just trying to reach as many USENET readers as
possible, indiscriminately. They do not target you personally, but
rather all of USENET. The ONLY appropriate action is
to send a message to their news administrator (
firstname.lastname@example.org) complaining about it and asking
for their account to be closed (be sure to include the full spam
message with all headers). You can send a copy of your message to the
posters so that they end up being "mailbombed" by readers (but do
NOT mailbomb them by yourself!). There is no point in
posting to the group because the spammers do NOT read
If the post you read is inappropriate in another way, chances are it is not intentional. The poster was probably unaware of netiquette or rules for this particular hierarchy/group. Be understanding: do not flame them on the group. Instead, tell them politely what to do by private e-mail, and refer them to this FAQ. Of course, if it is a repeat offender, feel free to flame, but only by e-mail.
A recurring subject of discussion is the posting of homework problems. Students should not ask readers to solve their homework problems in detail in this group because they are supposed to do it themselves in the first place, and readers are unlikely to be sympathetic to a lazy attitude. More importantly, answers are not guaranteed to be correct (far from that!), and instead of getting an answer, you may initiate a long and useless discussion on factors of two. Do not try to disguise homework: long time readers (there are many) will detect it and you will get flamed!
However, if there is a concept you do not understand in a problem and would like some guidance or some help getting started (not the solution), then feel free to ask. Or if you find conflicting sources, it's fine to ask about that. Basically, think of the net as a group of friends. You wouldn't ask your friends to do your homework for you, but you might well ask for help in the circumstances described. Of course it's up to you to evaluate the answers you get!
Please keep in mind that articles take anywhere from one hour to several days to propagate to other sites. Therefore, it is hopeless to get an answer for an assignment you have to turn in the next day, or after the weekend... USENET is not a last minute solution!
This list is an attempt to compile the locations of the biggest sites and those with extensive cross-references. Please let me know other sites that fall into these categories or categories not included. The FAQ can't list everybody's favorite site, but it should list sites that cross-reference most people's favorites.
AstroWeb: Astronomy/Astrophysics on the Internet [multiple mirror sites]
Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS) (Images, Info, and Software Archive)
JPL Solar System Dynamics ("information [about] all known bodies in orbit around the Sun.")
Centre de Donnees astronomiques de Strasbourg (in English and includes SIMBAD)
NSSDC Astrophysics Data (space missions and catalog data)
Astronomical Data System (professional journals, conference proceedings, data)
SkyView (digitized images of any sky coordinates, multi-wavelength)
The Nine Planet Planetary Picture List
NASA JSC Digital Image Collection (mostly Earth and spacecraft)
sci.physics: Physical laws, properties, etc.
sci.physics.particle: Particle physics discussions
sci.space.*: Discussions of space policy, travel, technology, etc.
talk.origins: Discussions of creationism vs. evolution, the Big Bang, and other science topics
Many related newsgroups have FAQ's. Most can be obtained by anonymous ftp from rtfm.mit.edu.
available via anonymous ftp
available via anonymous ftp
available via the Web
available via anonymous ftp
available from the talkorigins Web site
The first thing to try would be to visit your favorite search engine and enter the astronomer or observatory's name. Most astronomers and observatories today have Web sites. Although they may not be comprehensive, there are two astronomy-oriented Web sites with astronomer and/or observatory information. They are the Astronomy Search Engine (English site) or Astronomy Search Engine (German site) and the Star*s Family of Astronomy resources. The latter is part of the AstroWeb Consortium (see A.06).
Many larger observatories do offer tours. If the observatory of interest has a Web page, that should provide a way to contact somebody at the observatory, see the FAQ "What are good Net sites for astronomy info and images?" and How can I find contact addresses for astronomers/observatories?.
Kenneth Glyn Jones. Messier's Nebulae and Star Clusters. Sky Publishing 1968, 2nd ed 19XX. 427p. A great handbook and resource! Contains introduction to historical and astronomical background together with data, historic and newer descriptions with a finder chart, drawing, and photo (in appendix) for each object, plus biographical and historical material on Messier and the other discoverers and early researchers of the Messier objects.
John Mallas & Everitt Kreimer. The Messier Album. Sky Publishing 1978, 248p. Messier biography (by Owen Gingerich), reprint of Messier's original catalog (in French), descriptions for each object (but M102) with finder chart, drawing (from 4") and b/w photo (12 1/2"). Messier object chart of the Heavens, check list, color photos of some, 248 p.
Hans Vehrenberg. Atlas of Deep Sky Splendors. Vehrenberg+Sky Publishing 1st ed. 196X, 4th edition 198X, 242p. Original title: Mein Messier-Buch (My Messier Book). Schmidt photo charts of all Messier and many other Deep Sky objects, partially color, descriptions, some with photos from observatories.
Don Machholz. Messier Marathon Observer's Guide -- Handbook and Atlas. Make Wood Products, P.O.Box 1716, Colfax, CA 95713 (USA). Interesting stuff on Charles Messier, his comets, his catalog including discussion of "nebulous" (missing, stellar, and the star cloud) and "add-on" objects, a catalog, finder charts, plus proposed Marathon.
In general, do not underestimate your local library. It likely contains encyclopediae and other reference sources to answer many questions.
The Armagh Planetarium College Hill Armagh BT61 9DB, Northern Ireland, U.K. Fax: +44 (0)861 52 6187
Astronomical Society of the Pacific 390 Ashton Avenue San Francisco, CA 94112, USA e-mail: email@example.com (customer correspondence) Phone: +1 (415) 337 2624, Toll free (U.S. only): 800 335 2624 Fax: +1 (415) 337 5205
The Hansen Planetarium 1845 South 300 West,#A Salt Lake City, Utah 84115, USA Phone: +1 (801) 483 5400, Toll free (USA only): 800 321 2369 Fax: +1 (801) 483 5484
Holiday Film Corporation P.O.Box 619 12607 E. Philadelphia St. Whittier, CA 90608, USA
List of Great Observatories making Astronomical Photographs publicly available Hartmut Frommert University of Constance Dept. of Physics P.O.Box 5560 M 678 D-78464 Konstanz, Germany Phone: +49 7531-88-3789 E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.seds.org/%7Espider/obs-ims.txt anonymous ftp list
There are a few different ways to find astronomy clubs (listed in no particular order):
Check Sky & Telescope's annual listing of astronomy clubs and societies.
Contact a local university or college (if there is one near you). Often times if there's a department of physics and/or astronomy, somebody within it may know of a local club.
Contact local science museums, planetaria, or other similar organizations.
Check the AstroWeb listing, see the FAQ "What are good Net sites for astronomy info and images?"
Very often public lectures and star parties are hosted by astronomy clubs. The list of ways to find astronomy clubs, given in the FAQ "How can I find an astronomy club?", can be exploited to find lectures and parties as well.
This document, as a collection, is Copyright 2002--2003 by T. Joseph W. Lazio <email@example.com>. The individual articles are copyright by the individual authors listed. All rights are reserved. Permission to use, copy and distribute this unmodified document by any means and for any purpose except profit purposes is hereby granted, provided that both the above Copyright notice and this permission notice appear in all copies of the FAQ itself. Reproducing this FAQ by any means, included, but not limited to, printing, copying existing prints, publishing by electronic or other means, implies full agreement to the above non-profit-use clause, unless upon prior written permission of the authors.
This FAQ is provided by the authors "as is," with all its faults. Any express or implied warranties, including, but not limited to, any implied warranties of merchantability, accuracy, or fitness for any particular purpose, are disclaimed. If you use the information in this document, in any way, you do so at your own risk.