Credit: Brian Kent
Credit: Tim McConnochie
About the Ask an Astronomer Team
Ask an Astronomer is run by volunteers in the Astronomy Department at Cornell University. There are several astronomers involved in maintaining this site and answering the questions sent in. Most of us are graduate students at Cornell, and all of us do this voluntarily, in our own time, fitting it in around our other work. We ask that you take this into consideration when sending in your questions, especially if you are a teacher using this site as part of a class. Please take the time to browse our site and first try to use the resources online to find an answer to your question.
Ask an Astronomer was set up in 1997 by Dave Kornreich when he was a graduate student here at Cornell. He told us that he started it because he thought it would be fun - which it is! Somehow it got picked up by Yahoo and got very popular. We now receive something like 60-70 questions a week (exact statistics).
In September 2001, with seven people involved in "Ask an Astronomer" (Lynn, Malia, Karen, Jagadheep, Dave R., Britt, and Kristine) we decided that it was about time we updated the website. The previously answered questions had got very out of date, and we thought that it might be very helpful if we put more information on the site to help circumvent some of the most basic questions. The updated site is what you are looking at and was launched to the public on May 1st 2002. Since then, "Ask an Astronomer" has continued to flourish, and now in 2009 we have roughly 20 graduate astronomers on hand to answer questions and update the site.
"Level 2" question answerers:
(Answering at most 5 questions a week)
Ann finished her PhD at Cornell in May 2011, studying the distribution of hydrogen-rich galaxies in the nearby Universe. She is now a postdoctoral fellow at NASA's Langley Research Center, working in the field of science education.
Here is a list of some questions answered by Ann (2006- ).
Dan is a fifth year graduate student studying planetary science, but is interested in all branches of science and is upset he had to choose just one!
Here is a list of some questions answered by Dan (2008- ).
Guest question answerers:
(Answering questions every once in a while)
Betsey is a sixth year graduate student in astronomy. She studies mini-halos around the Milky Way using the Arecibo Observatory.
Here is a list of some questions answered by Betsey (2007- ).
Past question answerers:
(An incomplete list of people who used to answer questions but now no longer do)
After learning the ropes in physics at Wabash College, IN, Suniti Karunatillake enrolled in the Department of Physics as a doctoral candidate in Aug, 2001. However, the call of the planets, instilled in childhood by Carl Sagan's documentaries and Arthur C. Clarke's novels, was too strong to keep him anchored there. Suniti was apprenticed with Steve Squyres to become a planetary explorer. He mostly plays with data from the Mars Odyssey Gamma Ray Spectrometer and the Mars Exploration Rovers for his thesis project on Martian surface geochemistry, but often relies on the synergy of numerous remote sensing and surface missions to realize the story of Mars. He now works at Stonybrook.
Here is a list of some questions answered by Suniti (2001-2008).
Laura is a seventh-year graduate student in astronomy. She works on radio astronomy instrumentation and searches for misbehaving pulsars.
Here is a list of some questions answered by Laura (2006-2012).
Mary Beth Wilhelm
Mary Beth received her undergrad degree from Cornell. For the past two years she has been researching water features on Mars.
Here is a list of some questions answered by Mary Beth (2008- ).
Ryan is a research fellow at USGS in Flagstaff, AZ and is a member of the Curiosity ChemCam team. He also loves explaining all aspects of astronomy. Check out his blog!
Here is a list of some questions answered by Ryan A. (2006- ).
Kate graduated with a Masters in Astronomy from Cornell in Summer 2004. While here she worked on methods to find transient signals in data from radio telescopes like Arecibo.
Here is a list of some questions answered by Kate (2003-2004).
Tanja graduated from Cornell in May 2004 with a Bachelors Degree in Physics with a concentration in Astronomy. While at Cornell she was a guide at the on-campus Fuertes Observatory and worked with the SPIFI and LOFAR projects.
Here is a list of some questions answered by Tanja (2003-2004).
Valerio graduated from Cornell with a Ph.D in Astronomy in January 2004. He works on the dynamical evolution of asteroid famillies and also on the long-term stability of irregular moons of Jupiter.
Here is a list of some questions answered by Valerio (2002-2003).
Lynn uses radar astronomy to study the planets, especially Venus. She got her PhD in Astronomy from Cornell in Summer 2004 and is now working at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. on the Mars Express radar.
Here is a list of some questions answered by Lynn (1999-2004).
David is a former Cornell undergraduate and now a graduate student at the University of Arizona. He works there in the Department of Planetary Sciences.
Here is a list of some questions answered by David (2003-2004).
Matija works on the orbital dynamics of the lesser moons of Jupiter and Saturn. He graduated with his PhD from Cornell in November 2004 and is now working at the University of British Columbia in Canada.
Here is a list of some questions answered by Matija (2002-2004).
Kelley graduated with a BA from Cornell in May 2005. She received her PhD in Astronomy at UW Madison in 2011 and now working in Cape Town, South Africa. She spent summer 2004 working at the VLA in Socorro, which is NOT a waste of space, and summer 2005 at NASA Academy space camp!
Here is a list of some questions answered by Kelley (2005).
Briony graduated with her PhD from Cornell in 2010 after studying how wind and water affect the surface of Mars. She's now at ASU.
Here is a list of some questions answered by Briony (2005- ).
Malia was an astronomy major at Cornell and graduated in May 2002. She did some undergraduate research while at Cornell, making infrared observations of microquasars.
Here is a list of some questions answered by Malia (2001-2002).
Cathy got her Bachelors degree from Cornell in May 2003 and her Masters of Education in May 2005. She did research studying the wind patterns on Jupiter while at Cornell. She is now an 8th grade Earth Sciences teacher in Natick, MA.
Here is a list of some questions answered by Cathy (2002-2003).
Dave was the founder of Ask an Astronomer. He got his PhD from Cornell in 2001 and is now an assistant professor in the Department of Physics and Physical Science at Humboldt State University in California. There he runs his own version of Ask the Astronomer. He also helps us out with the odd cosmology question.
Here is a list of some questions answered by Dave K. (1997- ).
Marko has worked in many fields of astronomy and physics including planetary astronomy, high energy astrophysics, quantum information theory, and supernova collapse simulations. Currently he studies the dark nebulae which form stars.
Here is a list of some questions answered by Marko (2002- ).
Karen studies the distribution and motions of galaxies in the local universe. She got her PhD from Cornell in August 2005 did a postdoc at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and is now the 2008 Gruber Foundation Fellow at the University of Portsmouth, Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation.
Here is a list of some questions answered by Karen (2000- ).
Jagadheep D. Pandian
Jagadheep built a new receiver for the Arecibo radio telescope that works between 6 and 8 GHz. He studies 6.7 GHz methanol masers in our Galaxy. These masers occur at sites where massive stars are being born. He got his Ph.D from Cornell in January 2007 and is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Max Planck Insitute for Radio Astronomy in Germany.
Here is a list of some questions answered by Jagadheep (2001-2007).
Dave is a former graduate student and postdoctoral researcher at Cornell who used infrared and X-ray observations and theoretical computer models to study accreting black holes in our Galaxy. He also did most of our website development.
Here is a list of some questions answered by Dave R. (2000- ).
Britt studies the rings of Saturn. She got her PhD from Cornell in 2006 and is now a Professor at Beloit College in Wisconson.
Here is a list of some questions answered by Britt (1998-2006).
Sarah has a B.A. in astrophysics from Agnes Scott College, where she worked in the field of radio astronomy, and an MFA from Cornell, where she now teaches.
Here is a list of some questions answered by Sarah (2007- ).
Sara is a former Cornell undergraduate and now a physics graduate student at Harvard University, where she works on cosmology and particle physics.
Here is a list of some questions answered by Sara (2003- ).
Kristine studies the dynamics of galaxies and what they can teach us about dark matter in the universe. She got her Ph.D from Cornell in August 2005 and is now a Jansky Fellow based at Rutgers University.
Here is a list of some questions answered by Kristine (2001-2005).
Chris studies the large scale structure of the universe using the peculiar velocities of galaxies. He is especially interested in the structure and dynamics of the Pisces-Perseus Supercluster. He got his PhD from Cornell in August 2005 and is now working at the Naval Research Lab in Washington, D.C.
Here is a list of some questions answered by Chris (2002-2005).
Pierre is a physics graduate student at Cornell. He works on understanding the structure of materials using X-ray diffraction images. Pierre is also an amateur astronomer and used to work at the ASTER observatory in Canada.
Here is a list of some questions answered by Pierre (2004-2007).
Lisa graduated from Cornell in May 2004 with a Bachelors in Astronomy. While here she studied frost streaks on Mars and the substructures in the Virgo Cluster. She is now a graduate student in Astronomy at the University of Maryland.
Here is a list of some questions answered by Lisa (2003-2004).
Awards and media attention we have received
We are grateful for everyone who has taken the time to write about or review our website! Some of the awards and media attention we have received are listed below:
The Houston Astronomical Society picked us as their "Site of the Week" for September 22nd-29th 2002, and the Amateur Astronomers Association of NY picked us as their "Web Site of the Month" for January 2003. Also, Sun Newspapers (from the Twin Cities area in Minnesota) named us their "Sun Spot of the Week" in July 2003.
Nice things people have said about us
We appreciate all of your kind comments and hope that you understand that as busy people we cannot reply to all comments individually. Instead we'll say thank you to you all at once. Some of the nicest comments are included below:
"After teaching for 17 years, I have myself teaching 8th grade Earth science for the first time. Needless to say, I had to learn more than anyone else. Your website has been such a valuable resource for me, and I just wanted to thank you for providing it."
"Twenty years of television hasn't been able to reveal to me what 5 minutes at your site has. It is truly wonderful to be able to browse through your site and see such well constructed answers to common and obvious questions that, I imagine, so many people like myself have asked themselves at different times by simply looking up. Well done and thank you."
"Thank you for taking the time to create such a beautiful and wonderful web site. Someday people will realize that the greatest joy in life is shared observations and knowledge; greed, power and prestige will be a thing of a barbaric past. Thank you again for your kindness."
"Thank you so very much for your answer to my question. I think now I have a better idea or at least can in my mind visualize how this came about. It is something that I have thought about for a long time and you are the first one make it clear. You are also the first astronomer I have ever talked to. At 60+ years of age and with a limited education it is difficult for me to understand something that I can't visualize. I'm sure this is why so many people turn to half-baked 'science' to explain to them what they can't understand. THEY make it easy and if not it's the government anyway."
"This is not a question, but a comment. I was trying to help my 6th grade son with his astronomy project, and we happened upon your website. Just wanted to say that it answered all of his questions, and that it's quite thorough and well done.. Kudos to the contributors!"
"My six-year-old wanted to know about the temperature of differently colored stars. I found this explanation so fascinating: What is the life cycle of a star? that I read the whole thing to him. He dashed off a picture, his interpretation of a red giant, having engulfed the planets of the solar system and about to go super-nova. Thanks for the very well-written explanations."
"Thank you for your time while answering my questions! And thank you, the astronomers, for devoting your lives to unlocking the mysteries of the universe. You inspire me. It's so odd because the next day in my science class the next chapter we're learning all about astronomy. Now I'll have something very intelligent to tell my teacher thanks to you."
"What a GREAT web page! It would certainly make me want to include a trip to Cornell's Astronomy Department in my lesson plans! I'm glad my suggestions helped, and I really do think it's a strong, welcoming site for teachers. I was soooooooo flattered that you included me and Senior High -- I'm sure it won't take long for you to find a science class to take our place, but the recognition is really something. I would like to share it with our science department, and my German students as well. Thanks for that :) !!!"
"I wanted to thank you for sending me the information about gravity. I was able to complete my science project. Everyone got a certificate and a red ribbon. I want you to have a picture of my project. I put Polly Pockets on the paper mache earths I made to show how people always walk upside right on the earth. I also included a picture of me. Thank you!"
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Last modified: November 14, 2011 5:08:29 PM
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