Saturn’s moon Epimetheus from the Cassini spacecraft.
Credit: Cassini Imaging Team, SSI, JPL, ESA, NASA
On the bus in Denali National Park a few years ago, I found myself sitting next a couple from the East Bay. If you’ve ever been on the Denali bus, you know that it’s a long ride and it was just a matter of time before we struck up a conversation. As often happens, we wound up talking about work and then about astronomy research. Both of them were very interested in the field but were unsure of where to find good information on the web. At the time, I hadn’t really thought about that and wasn’t much help.
Now that I’m writing for QUEST, I am much better suited to answer them. I spend a lot of time surfing the web for images and links to websites to provide the full details for readers who want to follow up on my posts. Over the course of a year or so, I’ve discovered quite a few resources and have settled on a few favorites. Of course, being a Berkeley and Cornell grad, I have a few biases…
First of all, it is common for a university astronomy department to organize a public outreach campaign. I won’t bother with the obvious disclaimers and instead will just say that two of my favorites are “Ask an Astronomer” at Cornell University and the Berkeley Center for Cosmological Physics.
These two sites are quite different. As the name implies, the Cornell site encourages questions and suggestions from readers. The content of the site is therefore governed by the public, covering a wide variety of topics in fairly brief, straightforward language. The Berkeley site is much more structured. They cover the history of cosmology and outline the history of our universe with all the appropriate links (scroll down to see the links). This provides a very detailed and organized explanation of a specific field of astronomy.
In addition to universities, there are quite a few NASA missions that maintain excellent public relations. Almost everyone knows the Hubble Space Telescope and Mars Rovers. Both sites are updated almost daily with galleries, discoveries, and recent news. NASA also has several other large missions at other wavelengths that are probably not as well known. Three examples are the Chandra X-ray observatory, the WMAP mission, and the Spitzer infrared observatory. Like the Hubble and Rover sites, these space-based observatories perform ground-breaking science and do an excellent job explaining their discoveries to the public.
Besides QUEST, there are also quite a few other excellent blogs out there. Each site has a different approach and finds its own balance between astronomy coverage, opinion, and discussion of general science. One of the most popular is the Bad Astro site–we even have a link on the right hand side of the QUEST blog web page. You can also check out About.com’s top ten space and astronomy blogs.
Of course, one obvious place to learn about astronomy is from journalists. Two websites that do a very good job of covering the field are Space.com and New Scientist (some content requires subscription).
Finally, if you enjoy beautiful images of the sky, a great place to look is the “Astronomy Picture of the Day.” This is where I got my image for today. If you look tomorrow you’re guaranteed to find something just as exciting!
Kyle S. Dawson is engaged in post-doctorate studies of distant supernovae and development of a proposed space-based telescope at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
latitude: 37.8768, longitude: -122.251