Portal:Radiation astronomy

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Radiation astronomy
This image is a composite of several types of radiation astronomy: radio, infrared, visual, ultraviolet, soft and hard X-ray. Credit: NASA.

Radiation astronomy is astronomy applied to the various extraterrestrial sources of radiation, especially at night. It is also conducted above the Earth's atmosphere and at locations away from the Earth, by satellites and space probes, as a part of explorational (or exploratory) radiation astronomy.

Seeing the Sun and feeling the warmth of its rays is probably a student's first encounter with an astronomical radiation source. This will happen from a very early age, but a first understanding of the concepts of radiation may occur at a secondary educational level.

Radiation is all around us on top of the Earth's crust, regolith, and soil, where we live. The study of radiation, including radiation astronomy, usually intensifies at the university undergraduate level.

And, generally, radiation becomes hazardous, when a student embarks on graduate study.

Cautionary speculation may be introduced unexpectedly to stimulate the imagination and open a small crack in a few doors that may appear closed at present. As such, this learning resource incorporates some state-of-the-art results from the scholarly literature.

The laboratories of radiation astronomy are limited to the radiation observatories themselves and the computers and other instruments (sometimes off site) used to analyze the results.

Selected resource

There is "a correlation between the arrival directions of cosmic rays with energy above 6 x 1019 electron volts and the positions of active galactic nuclei (AGN) lying within ~75 megaparsecs."

Some low energy cosmic rays originate or are associated with solar flares. Even these cosmic rays have too high an energy to originate from the solar photosphere. The coronal cloud in close proximity to the Sun may be a source or create them as it bombards the chromosphere from above.

"In particular we recognize a first trace of Vela, brightest gamma and radio galactic source, and smeared sources along Galactic Plane and Center [as a source of ultra high energy cosmic rays (UHECR)]." Read more...

More resources...
Selected lecture

Radiation astronomy entities

This is an image of Johannes Vermeer's The astronomer. Credit: www.essentialvermeer.com : Home : Info : Pic.

Radiation astronomy entities, radiation entities, are any astronomical persons or things that have separate and distinct existences in empirical, objective or conceptual reality.

Some of them, like the astronomers of today, or at any time in the past, are relatively known. But there are many entities that are far less known or understood, such as the observers of ancient times who suggested that deities occupied the sky or the heavens. Likewise, these alleged deities may be entities, or perhaps something a whole lot less.

Astronomical X-ray entities are often discriminated further into sources or objects when more information becomes available, including that from other radiation astronomies.

A researcher who turns on an X-ray generator to study the X-ray emissions in a laboratory so as to understand an apparent astronomical X-ray source is an astronomical X-ray entity. So is one who writes an article about such efforts or a computer simulation to possibly represent such a source.

"The X-ray luminosity of the dominant group [an entity] is an order of magnitude fainter than that of the X-ray jet."[1]


  1. A. Finoguenov, M.G. Watson, M. Tanaka, C.Simpson, M. Cirasuolo, J.S. Dunlop, J.A. Peacock, D. Farrah, M. Akiyama, Y. Ueda, V. Smolčič, G. Stewart, S. Rawlings, C.vanBreukelen, O. Almaini, L.Clewley, D.G. Bonfield, M.J. Jarvis, J.M. Barr, S. Foucaud, R.J. McLure, K. Sekiguchi, E. Egami (April 2010). "X-ray groups and clusters of galaxies in the Subaru-XMM Deep Field". Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 403 (4): 2063-76. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2966.2010.16256.x. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2966.2010.16256.x/full. Retrieved 2011-12-09. 
Selected theory

Theoretical astronomy

This image is a theory for the interior of the Sun. Credit: Pbroks13.

Theoretical astronomy at its simplest is the definition of terms to be applied to astronomical entities, sources, and objects.

Def. an "expanse of space that seems to be [overhead] like a dome"[1] is called a sky.

Computer simulations are usually used to represent astronomical phenomena.

Part of the fun of theory is extending the known to what may be known to see if knowing is really occurring, or is it something else.

The laboratories of astronomy are limited to the observatories themselves. The phenomena observed are located in the heavens, far beyond the reach, let alone control, of the astronomical observer.[2] “So how can one be sure that what one sees out there is subject to the same rules and disciplines of science that govern the local laboratory experiments of physics and chemistry?”[2] “The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible.” - Albert Einstein.[2]


  1. Philip B. Gove, ed. (1963). Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary. Springfield, Massachusetts: G. & C. Merriam Company. p. 1221. |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Narlikar JV (1990). Pasachoff JM, Percy JR, ed. Curriculum for the Training of Astronomers ‘’In: The Teaching of astronomy. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
Selected topic


A spectrum is taken of blue sky clearly showing solar Fraunhofer lines and atmospheric water absorption band. Credit: Remember the dot.

"[P]referential absorption of sunlight by ozone over long horizon paths gives the zenith sky its blueness when the sun is near the horizon".[1]

"For quenched galaxies, the Hα absorption trough is deep and can be traced through the nucleus and along the major axis. It extends to a radius at or beyond 2 Rd [where Rd is the galaxy disk scale length] in all but three cases. This makes it possible to determine a velocity width from the optical spectrum as is done for emission line flux, with appropriate corrections between stellar and gas velocities (see discussion in Paper I, also Neistein, Maoz, Rix, & Tonry, 1999). In the few cases where a velocity width can also be measured from the H I data, it is found to be in good agreement with that taken from the Hα absorption line flux."[2]


  1. Craig F. Bohren. Atmospheric Optics (PDF).
  2. Nicole P. Vogt and Martha P. Haynes, Riccardo Giovanelli, and Terry Herter (June 2004). "M/L, Hα Rotation Curves, and HI Gas Measurements for 329 Nearby Cluster and Field Spirals. III. Evolution in Fundamental Galaxy Parameters". The Astronomical Journal 127 (6): 3325-37. doi:10.1086/420703. http://iopscience.iop.org/1538-3881/127/6/3325. Retrieved 2013-12-20. 
Selected image

The Crab Nebula is a remnant of an exploded star. This is the Crab Nebula in various energy bands, including a hard X-ray image from the HEFT data taken during its 2005 observation run. Each image is 6′ wide. Credit: NASA.

Selected lesson

First blue source in Boötes

This is a visual image of lambda Boötis. Credit: Aladin at SIMBAD.

The first blue source in Boötes is unknown.

This is a lesson in map reading, coordinate matching, and searching.

It is also a project in the history of blue astronomy looking for the first astronomical blue source discovered in the constellation of Boötes.

Nearly all the background you need to participate and learn by doing you've probably already been introduced to at a secondary level.

Some of the material and information is at the college or university level, and as you progress in finding blue sources, you'll run into concepts and experimental tests that are an actual search.

To succeed in finding a blue source in Boötes is the first step. Next, you'll need to determine the time stamp of its discovery and compare it with any that have already been found. Over the history of blue astronomy a number of sources have been found, many as point sources in the night sky. These points are located on the celestial sphere using coordinate systems. Familiarity with these coordinate systems is not a prerequisite. Here the challenge is geometrical, astrophysical, and historical.

Selected quiz

Radiation detector astronomy quiz

This is an animation of a radiation scintillation counter. Credit: KieranMaher.

Radiation astronomy detectors is a lecture as part of the astronomy department course on the principles of radiation astronomy.

You are free to take this quiz based on radiation astronomy detectors at any time.

To improve your score, read and study the lecture, the links contained within, listed under See also, External links, and in the {{principles of radiation astronomy}} template. This should give you adequate background to get 100 %.

As a "learning by doing" resource, this quiz helps you to assess your knowledge and understanding of the information, and it is a quiz you may take over and over as a learning resource to improve your knowledge, understanding, test-taking skills, and your score.

Suggestion: Have the lecture available in a separate window.

To master the information and use only your memory while taking the quiz, try rewriting the information from more familiar points of view, or be creative with association.

This quiz may need up to an hour to take and is equivalent to an hourly.

Enjoy learning by doing!

Selected laboratory

Cratering astronomy laboratory

The crater in Santa Ana Volcano is photographed from a United States Air Force C-130 Hercules flying above El Salvador. Credit: José Fernández, U.S Air Force.

This laboratory is an activity for you to create or analyze a cratering. While it is part of the astronomy course principles of radiation astronomy, it is also independent.

Some suggested types of cratering to consider include a lightning strike, a bullet shot into some material, a water droplet hitting the surface of a beaker of water, a subterranean explosion, a sand vortex, or a meteorite impact.

More importantly, there is your cratering idea. And, yes, you can crater a peanut butter and jelly sandwich if you wish to.

Okay, this is an astronomy cratering laboratory, but you may create what a crater is. Another example is a volcanic crater.

I will provide an example of a cratering experiment. The rest is up to you.

Please put any questions you may have, and your laboratory results, you'd like evaluated, on the laboratory's discussion page.

Enjoy learning by doing!

Selected problems

Furlongs per fortnight

It's about the chains. Credit: Stilfehler.{{free media}}

Furlongs per fortnight is a problem set with a contained quiz that focuses on the fundamentals of observational and deductive astronomy. In the activity Energy phantoms you learned about the value of distance, or displacement, and motion, speed, velocity, and acceleration. Here, you can practice and test yourself on converting from units that may or have occurred in the literature to units popular today.

Notation: let the symbol indicate the Earth's radius.

Notation: let the symbol indicate the radius of Jupiter.

Notation: let the symbol indicate the solar radius.

Both physics and astronomy use units and dimensions to describe observations.

Units of Physics and Astronomy
Dimension Astronomy Symbol Physics Symbol Conversion
time 1 day d 1 second s 1 d = 86,400 s[1]
time 1 "Julian year"[2] J 1 second s 1 J = 31,557,600 s
distance 1 astronomical unit AU 1 meter m 1 AU = 149,597,870.691 km[1]
angular distance 1 parsec pc 1 meter m 1 pc ~ 30.857 x 1012 km[1]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 P. K. Seidelmann (1976). Measuring the Universe The IAU and astronomical units. International Astronomical Union. Retrieved 2011-11-27.
  2. International Astronomical Union "SI units" accessed February 18, 2010. (See Table 5 and section 5.15.) Reprinted from George A. Wilkins & IAU Commission 5, "The IAU Style Manual (1989)" (PDF file) in IAU Transactions Vol. XXB
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