Although there are millions of websites that deal with astronomy, cosmology, and space in general, many are guilty of disseminating half-truths, distorted truths, or just plain bad science. So where do you start to look for accurate, up-to-date, and relevant information when you need answers to your questions? It is not as difficult as you might think, and to help you in your search, we have compiled a list of the top websites that publish reliable, accurate, and relevant information- whatever your needs may be.
No list of important astronomy related websites would be complete without NASA’s official site in the top position. Information on this site is aimed at both amateur and professional astronomers, and the only criticism that could ever be levelled at the site involves the sheer enormity of it.
It would take several years to read everything on the site, by which time one would have to start at the beginning again, since by then, everything will have been updated many times. This is the ultimate go-to site for everything from the “Image of the Day”, articles about missions, discoveries, and space technology, to videos, image galleries, NASA TV, and even Twitter feeds from astronauts.
Previously hosted on the Discover website, Bad Astronomy now lives at slate.com, and to describe Bad Astronomy as blog that publishes “interesting and thought-provoking stories”, as one reviewer put it, is to do it a major disservice. The internet is full of sites that publish half-truths and outright garbage about any subject one can think of, but Bad Astronomy is doing a great job at setting the record straight, as least as far as astronomy is concerned. Maintained by an actual professional astronomer, Phil Plait, Bad Astronomy is all about debunking myths, correcting misrepresentations in the press, and generally educating the public that there is a lot of bad astronomy being passed off as “expert opinion” these days. One example of the huge popularity of the blog involves a story about black holes that attracted 2,995 Facebook likes, 535 Tweets/re-Tweets, and 422 comments- all in the space of 48 hours. To see what Bad Astronomy is about, visit slate.com, click on the “Health and Science” tab, and follow the Bad Astronomy link. You’ll be amazed at what you find.
Heavens Above is one of the most reliable, and therefore best resources to visit if you need information on the orbits of the International Space Station, Iridium satellites, or any number of other luminous objects that orbit the earth. Here you can also find maps that indicate the current positions of comets, minor planets and asteroids, as well as information on spacecraft such as the Voyager, Pioneer, and New Horizons probes that are on their way out of the solar system.
Observing the Sun is a fascinating and rewarding experience, and on this site you will find everything you need to know about auroras, sunspots, solar flares, and CME’s (Coronal Mass Ejections). Moreover, you will not only find information on how to predict these events, but also a gallery of images submitted by readers- some of which match the quality of professionally taken images. An added bonus is the treasure trove of information on satellite flyovers and near-Earth asteroids, and the loads of useful information besides space weather that will appeal to all students of astronomy.
If you are thinking of taking up astrophotography, this is the site for you, and the following excerpts from their landing page explain their mission and purpose in life better than anyone else ever can- “A forum provided by astro imagers, for astro imagers, and to the best of our knowledge, the only forum that truly specialises in astro-imaging for the amateur astronomer.” And further, that “We specialise in the astro imaging aspects of amateur astronomy, and here you will find meaningful comments, along with friendly constructive advice, to help you improve your skills and knowledge of astro-imaging.” And in closing that “There are no “Image of the Month” awards, so nobody need [ever] feel inferior, irrespective of their ability or equipment.”
This excellent resource that is owned and operated by the KidsKnowIt Network, is all about teaching children about the wonders of astronomy and the Universe. The site is packed to overflowing with fun facts/activities, games, and free resources to help teachers, and parents to teach the astronomers of tomorrow how to reach out and touch the Universe. Features include free online lessons and classes, an astronomy dictionary, animations, space videos, the latest astronomy news, and a Teacher’s Corner, with loads of useful information, lesson plans, and tips on how to explain some of the more obtuse and esoteric concepts that make up much of modern astronomy. The site is super-easy to navigate, and the information on it is presented in bite-sized chunks.
After nasa.gov, Space.com is arguably the second most useful astronomy site on the internet, and like with the official NASA site, you can spend years here without ever reaching the end of it. Space.com is packed with news of the latest astronomical discoveries, articles on space missions and technology, news on, and developments in commercial spaceflight, opinion pieces, trends in space exploration, and futuristic ideas on anything from spaceship designs, space habitats, and much else besides
There is also an “Image of the Day” feature, as well as a very attractive shop that is packed with gifts for every occasion. If you can’t find what you are looking for on nasa.gov, you are sure to find it on the front page of space.com.
This site is the electronic version of the famous print magazine; however, the site is packed with information that is not always available in the print version. One very useful feature of the site is the “How to…” guides on just about any subject within the field of astronomy- from basic star gazing, to astrophotography, to telescope making, and a whole lot more.
Some other attractions include “This week’s sky at a glance” feature, star charts and maps, phases of the moon, and information on constellations, as well as “Planet Watch.” Although registration on the site is not required to access much of the information on it, it is highly recommended to register so as to be able to unlock all of the features and resources available here.
The Hubble Space Telescope does not only feature nice pictures of the Universe- it also makes a huge contribution toward explaining how much of the Universe works. In fact, some Hubble images are of critical scientific importance, because it can reveal features that are not observable with earth-based telescopes. One example is the Hubble Deep Field images that revealed the existence of millions of previously unsuspected galaxies. There are off course many more such examples, such as observations of supernova explosions that contributed to our admittedly limited understanding of Dark Energy, but the really cool thing about the site is that offers the best, and most detailed images of celestial objects ever taken. Apart from news about the telescope itself, the site also offers more than 50 images that are formatted for use as wallpapers. Downloads are free, so download your wallpaper today!
APOD, as the Astronomy Picture of the Day site is also known, is the result of a joint venture between NASA, and the Michigan Technological University. The site offers one extraordinary image every day, which is accompanied by a short explanation of the image by a professional astronomer. The database consists of thousands of official NASA images, artist’s conceptions, and even images taken by amateur astronomers, and it would be true to say that the site offers an image-based overview of the observable Universe. The database/gallery is fully searchable, so if the Picture of the Day does not take your fancy, you can search through 20 year’s worth of images of planets, galaxies, solar and lunar eclipses, the Milky Way, or anything else that will answer your needs. Images are free to use for non-commercial purposes, provided it is properly credited.
If you have a passion for the Red Planet, this site offers you the opportunity to explore it at your leisure. In collaboration with NASA, Google offers you close-up views of the regions, craters, mountains, ridges, plains, canyons, dunes, and the locations of both active and inactive spacecraft on the surface of Mars. Moreover, the site also offers stories and articles that explain the various features, which is a great way to spend a few hours. Think of it this way – with Google Mars you do not have to wait for a commercial flight to Mars, you can get high resolution images of the entire Martian surface right now, and right on your computer screen.