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Zoom Astronomy Questions and Answers

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Q: Is there a symbol of the planet Sedna?
from Joshua M, Cincinnati, Ohio, ?; April 9, 2004

A: Although Sedna is planet-like, is not considered to be a planet. I don't think that it has been given a symbol.

Q: My friend said scientist think they discovered a new planet. Am I right.
from Joshua M, Cincinnati, Ohio, ?; April 2, 2004

A: Recently, a large object called Sedna was found in the outer reaches of our Solar System (in the Kuiper belt). Sedna is a reddish-colored, planet-like body located in the Oort Cloud, approximately 13 billion kilometers (8 billion miles) away (three times farther from Earth than Pluto). Sedna is abour 800-1100 miles in diameter (this is about three- fourths the size of Pluto). Sedna was discovered by Mike Brown, Chad Trujillo, and David Rabinowitz on Nov. 14, 2003. The name Sedna is from an Inuit goddess of the ocean

Q: How did the planets get named?
from Joshua M, Cincinnati, Ohio, ?; March 17, 2004

A: The planets that are visible without a telescope (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn) were named in ancient times. The others were named as they were discovered.

Mercury was named after Mercury, the mythical Roman winged messenger and escort of dead souls to the underworld. It was named for the speedy Mercury because it is the fastest-moving planet. Venus was named after the Roman goddess of love. Mars was named after the Roman god of war. Jupiter was named after the Roman primary god, Jupiter. Saturn was named for the Roman god of agriculture.

Uranus was originally named in 1781 by the British astronomer William Herschel - he called it Georgium Sidus (meaning "the Georgian planet") to honor the King George III of England. The name was later changed to Uranus, the ancient mythological god of the sky, Ouranos. The name Uranus was suggested by the German astronomer Johann Elert Bode. Neptune was named after the mythical Roman god of the seas. Pluto was named after the Roman god of the underworld, Pluto. Its symbol is the combined letters "P" and "L," either for Percival Lowell or for Pluto. The name Pluto was suggested by Venetia Burney of England, who was 11 years old at the time. She suggested the name to her grandfather, who was Librarian at Oxford. He passed her idea to the astronomers who were trying to name the newly-discovered planet.

Q: As part of my 3rd grade science project, I think Mars was formed by a combination of large comets. Is there any information to support my theory?
from Darrien B., Frederick, Maryland, ?; February 29, 2004

A: No, I don't know of any. But there is a theory that Mar's two tiny moons are captured asteroids.

Q: Why is the Milky Way galaxy said to have 5 arms coming out from the center, yet the diagrams give 6 "arm names"? How does this work? Thanks for class is waiting to find out!
from Kelly K, Brooklyn, Connecticut, USA, ?; January 15, 2004

A: There are a lot of different variations on the names and number of arms in the Milky Way. Spiral galaxies (like the Milky Way) have major arms, but they may also have smaller, minor arms, side arms (like the Orion arms of the Milky way) and/or arm fragments. [Also, there are many stars between the arms.] For the Milky way, some astronomers consider there to be four major arms (Sagittarius, Centaurus, Cygnus, and Perseus Arms), plus a side arm (the Orion arm, where we are) - but other astronomers think that Orion is a fragment of the Perseus arm. Some astronomers divide the Centaurus Arm into the Scutum arm and the Crux arm, and some lump Carina arm into the Sagittarius arm (leaving its name out altogether). Plus, some astronomers think that the Milky way might be a barred spiral galaxy and not a regular spiral galaxy at all (changing the map radically). Basically, looking at a diagram of the Mlky way today is a bit like looking at an ancient map of the world - they're both inaccurate because they're based on very limited data. Perhaps, in the future, one of your students will clear this matter up for all of us!

Q: How big are stars?
from Joshua M, Cincinnati, Ohio, ?; October 27, 2003

A: Stars vary in size quite a lot, from tiny neutron stars (these dead stars can have a diameter of only 5-10 miles) to old, bloated super giants like Betelgeuse (these are the largest stars and they have a diameter of over 600 million miles).

Q: Why can't I see gravity?
from Morris F., Gainesville, FL, ?; September 19, 2003

A: First of all, you can only see the light that is reflected from things (you don't see the thing itself), and gravity doesn't reflect light. Gravitational lensing, however, is the displacement of light due to the warping of space by a gravitational lens (a massive object in space that bends light that passes by it, due to the gravitational forces). This is a way that gravity can be "seen."

Q: Why is the sky blue?
from Morris F., Gainesville, FL, ?; September 19, 2003

A: Click here.

Q: Hiya, Firstly a big thanks for all the help you have given me so far. It as been extremely useful in helping me understand my Astronomy course much better. My questions for today are: Does a cool star of about 3500 degrees C emit UltraViolet radiation? What is the evidence that Protostars form after a collision between gas clouds? Thanks Andy
from Andrew W, Burnley, Lancashire, UK, ?; July 16, 2003

A: Does a cool star of about 3500 degrees C emit UltraViolet radiation? Cool stars in that temperature range appear reddish or orange to us; they emit only small amounts of UV radiation (hot stars produce much stronger UV emissions).

What is the evidence that Protostars form after a collision between gas clouds? There's an interesting page on this from UC Berkeley, at:

Q: List four differences between the surfaces and atmospheres of Mars and Earth......Thanks Andrew
from Andrew W, Burnley, Lancs, UK, ?; July 7, 2003

A: For the atmosphere part of the question, there are differences in the composition of the air (both the elements that are present and their relative percentages), the amount of gas in the atmosphere (the air pressure), the temperature (it is much colder on Mars), and different weather patterns (for example, there is no rain on Mars). For the surface part of the question, there are differences in the composition of the soil and rocks (the presence of red, oxidized iron is notable on Mars), the more obvious craters on Mars, much more volcanism on Mars (note Olympus Mons), the absence of liquid water on Mars, more dunes on Mars than on Earth, the size and composition of polar ice caps (carbon dioxide ice over water ice on Mars), and the absence of plants and animals on Mars. Wind is the main cause of erosion on Mars - there are more dust storms on Mars than there are on Earth (on Earth, water is the major cause of erosion). (There are a lot more differences, but these are the most obvious ones.)

Q: What distance would the Sun after be from ourselves to appear double its present angular size?....Thanks Andrew.. P.S - Thanks for the quick reply on the last question....
from Andrew W, Burnley, Lancs, UK, ?; July 7, 2003


This is basically a geometry problem. If you look at the diagram above, you'll see that the angle subtended by the Sun from Earth (call that angle x) can be solved for by breaking the diagram into triangles. You'll see that tangent of angle (x/2) = r/D (since the tangent of an angle is equal to the opposite side of the triangle divided by the adjacent side of the triangle. Also, note that r is the radius of the Sun and D is the distance from the Earth to the Sun). For small angles, the tangent of the angle is just about equal to the angle itself (in radians), so the problem can be simplified to:


Now, solve for x, and you get:


Now, back to your question, to double the apparent angle, x, you have to decrease D (the distance from the Sun) by half (since r, the radius of the Sun is constant). Remember that this is only for relatively small vales of x. This calculation works not only for the Sun, but for planets, too.

Q: I know that the Sun's Corona is extremely hot about a million degrees or so. My question is can hydrogen fusion occur in the suns corona? If not why not? Thanks
from Andrew W. B., Lancashire, UK; July 3, 2003

A: No, nuclear fusion does not occur in the corona. Although the sun's corona can be as hot as the core in some places, it is not at all dense (and nuclear fusion requires both extremely high temperature and extremely high density).

Q: im doing a science project so if possible please i need the author, date of posting/revision date of acess pkease i really need it!
from Iris D., tallahassee, FL usa; January 15, 2003

A: The author is Jeananda Col (this is listed on the main page of ZoomAstronomy and on the table of contents). The year which each page was written is listed at the bottom of each page; look at the earliest date in the copyright notice of the page(s) you used. The date of access is the date you visited the site (only you know this).

Q: Who are some fameous astronomers?
from Seth B., Cincinatti, Ohio USA,; December 10, 2002

A: Click here.

Q: I'm doing a research project, and I was wondering if you could help me with a question. I need to know three diffrent space missions, and the purpose of each one. I was told I could find it on your website, and looked for it, so I guess they meant this thing...

Thank you for your help, and keep up the good work...
from Enmirri, ?, ATL, GEORGIA; November 24, 2002

A: For a page that lists some seminal space missions, click here.

Q: I just found this sight and am not a supporter yet, but I do have a question for my child home work. How old is the planet Uranus? Thank you so much for you help. Dustyn
from Dustyn B, Honolulu, HI; May 23, 2002

A: I have neither the time nor the resources to answer the questions that come from those people who are not supporters of my site (good intentions are nice, but they don't pay my bandwidth bills). I have worked for years to provide information online, and the expenses of keeping the site online are getting out of hand because if the huge numbers of people who visit my site (and do not support it). To support Enchanted Learning using our honor system and become a site member (you must be over 18 years old to so do), click here. Thank you so much for you help.

Q: what is the meaning of neptunes moon triton? i mean what is the meaning of triton?
from jessica, zama, japan; January 14, 2002

A: Triton was a god of the sea in Greek mythology.

Q: What causes different elements to have different spectrums?
from ?, ?, ?, ?; December 28, 2001

A: Each element has a different atomic structure, causing it to produce (or absorb) a different set of wavelengths. It's the actions of the electrons (tiny particles that surround the much heavier nucleus) jumping between different orbitals (the many places where the probability of finding an electron is the greatest) that produce the signature spectrum for an element.

When light (or other energy) is absorbed by the atom, an electron jumps from a low energy orbital to a higher energy orbital. When an electron returns to a less energetic orbital, light (or other electromagnetic radiation) is generated. There are actually many high energy orbitals that an electron can move to, so you can get emitted light in several different wavelengths. The bigger the difference in energy of the orbitals, the shorter the wave length of the light produced (or absorbed). For more information, click here.

Q: How much do people weigh on different planets in the solar system?
from Matt C, kent, Wa, America; December 18, 2001

A: Click here.

Q: Why do stars twinkle when we view them from earth?
from Jessica k, hudson, ny, us; December 17, 2001

A: Click here for an explanation.

Q: HI! i luv your site!I need 1 question 4 hw tho!ma question is......Is there other planets where there is life, like Earth?If there is tell me da planet and please tell me by tommorow 4 skewl!I NEED IT FAST!! THANX!
from Alex O., ?, ?, ?; December 16, 2001

A: Thanks. No one knows of another planet that has life forms on it, but that doesn't mean that there aren't any.

Q: Do you have answers for the quizzes for teachers? Your site is amazing. My school and students are enjoying it immensely! Thank you, Abby K
from abby k, glenview, il, usa; December 16, 2001

A: Thank you so much. For the answers to the astronomy Find It! quizzes, click here. For the astronomy Label Me! quizzes, there are links to the answers on the main quiz page.

Q: Who discovered Saturn?
from Layton, Buckingham, Va., usa; December 14, 2001

A: Saturn is one of the planets that is visible without using a telescope, so it has been known since ancient times.

Q: What causes a solar eclipse?
from Jasmine M., Missouri City, Texas, U.S.A; December 14, 2001

A: A solar eclipse happens when the moon blocks our view of the sun.

Q: Can we see other planets from Earth? Why or why not?
from Sarah R., Sacramento, CA, USA; December 10, 2001

A: You can (sometimes) see Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn without a telescope because they are close enough to Earth.

Q: how can scientist find out what gases are in a star or nebulae
from ?, ?, ?, ?; December 9, 2001

A: They examine the light that comes from the star (its spectrum). For more information, click here.

Q: what are carbonadoes what is another name for them
from ?, ?, ?, ?; December 9, 2001

A: A carbonardo is a rare type of opaque black diamond; they are not used for jewels, but for items like drilling bits and abrasive wheels. They were once thought to have been formed as a result of a comet impact 2 billion years ago, but this is no longer thought to be true. For more information on carbonadoes, click here.

Q: what is the lo Torus, what cuases it?
from ?, ?, ?, ?; December 9, 2001

A: The Io Torus is a doughnut-shaped plasma cloud around Jupiter near Io's orbit (it is also known as the "Io plasma torus") This torus is caused by Jupiter's strong magnetic field, which strips ions from Io as it rotates; Io acts like an electrical generator.

Q: name the planets in order from the sun and diameter in miles and kilometer and distance from the sun in miles and kilometers
from bernard, ?, ?, ?; December 7, 2001

A: Go to the main page on the planets and scroll towards the bottom - the information you want is there in a table.

Q: What are newton's 3 laws of motion, When and why might a solar sail be used?, what does pulsar stand for? and what is a pulsar?
from Sugar, So, Cal, usa; December 7, 2001

A: For a page on Newton that lists the 3 laws of motion, click here. For solar sails, see the entry in the astronomy glossary. For pulsars (not an acronym), click here.

Q: What element is most plentiful on the Sun
from Ashley S, Lawsovill, N.C., USA; December 7, 2001

A: Hydrogen. The Sun is made up of about 75% hydrogen and 25% helium. About 0.1% is metals (made from hydrogen via nuclear fusion). This ratio is changing over time (very slowly), as the nuclear reactions continue, converting smaller atoms into more massive ones.

Q: im doin a report and i was wondering what Subrahmanyan Chandresekhar is know for
from lenny, ?, cali, ?; December 6, 2001

A: Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar (born Lahore, India, in 1910 -died Chicago, USA, in 1995) was an Indian-American astrophysicist who studied stellar physics, evolution, and black holes. He realized that the fate of dying stars depended upon their mass, and above a certain point (1.4 times the mass of the Sun, now known as the "Chandrasekhar limit"), a star will undergo extreme collapse and not simply becomes a white dwarf. He won the Nobel prize in physics in 1983. The orbiting X-ray Observatory Chandra was named to honor S. Chandrasekhar.

Q: how fast does light travel??????
from ?????, ?, cali, ?; December 6, 2001

A: The fastest that light can travel is 186,300 miles per second.

Q: 1.what is plama? 2. what is a galaxy? 3. what is the milky way? 4.what is a nebula? 5. what is a constellation? 6. what is Subrahmanyan Chandresekhar known for?
from MooN, Chatsworth, CALI, U.S.A.; December 2, 2001

A: These terms are all in the astronomy glossary.

Q: 1.what is cosmology? 2. what is the Steady State theory? 3.where did the term BIG BANG come from? 4. how fast does light move? 5.what is a light year? 6. what is a read shift and a blueshift?
from courtney, ?, ?, ?; December 2, 2001

A: These terms are all in the astronomy glossary.

Q: 1. what is a brown dwarf? 2. what is the difference between a nova and a supernova? 3. what and where is the Kuiper belt? 4. What and where is the Oort Cloud? 5. what and where is the asteoid belt?
from kernee, LA, kali-4-ny-a, u.s. of a; December 2, 2001

A: These terms are all in the astronomy glossary.

Q: Which was the name of the first created and sent satellite in orbit?
from Marija T., ?, ?, ?; December 2, 2001

A: The first satellite was Sputnik 1, launched by the USSR. It was launched on October 4, 1957. Sputnik 1 was about the size of a basketball, weighing roughly 183 pounds. It was sent into an elliptical orbit around the Earth, revolving in about 98 minutes.

Q: There is a report that i am working on.. it is very difficult.. can u please help me with these questions..?.. 1. What does E=mc scquared mean? 2. What is Subrahmanyan Chandresekhar known for? 3. What and where is the Kuiper Belt? and 4. What and where is the Oort Cloud?
from ?¿?, ??, ??, ???; December 1, 2001

A: These terns are all explained in the astronomy glossary, look under Einstein (for E=mc2), Chandresekhar, Kuiper belt, and oort cloud.

Q: What was the first person's name who landed on Venus?
from Susannah K, Sebastopol, CA, USA; December 1, 2001

A: No person has been to Venus.

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