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
Because a tachyon always moves faster than light, we cannot see it approaching. After a tachyon has passed nearby, we would be able to see two images of it, appearing and departing in opposite directions. Credit: TxAlien.

Faster-than-light (also superluminal or FTL) communications and travel refer to the propagation of information or matter faster than the speed of light. Under the special theory of relativity, a particle (that has rest mass) with subluminal velocity needs infinite energy to accelerate to the speed of light, although special relativity does not forbid the existence of particles that travel faster than light at all times (tachyons).

On the other hand, what some physicists refer to as "apparent" or "effective" FTL depends on the hypothesis that unusually distorted regions of spacetime might permit matter to reach distant locations in less time than light could in normal or undistorted spacetime. Although according to current theories matter is still required to travel subluminally with respect to the locally distorted spacetime region, apparent FTL is not excluded by general relativity.

Apparent superluminal motion is observed in many radio galaxies, blazars, quasars and recently also in microquasars. The effect was [apparently] predicted before it was observed by Martin Rees and can be explained as an optical illusion caused by the object partly moving in the direction of the observer, when the speed calculations assume it does not. The phenomenon does not contradict the theory of special relativity. Interestingly, corrected calculations show these objects have velocities close to the speed of light (relative to our reference frame). They are the first examples of large amounts of mass moving at close to the speed of light. Earth-bound laboratories have only been able to accelerate small numbers of elementary particles to such speeds.

More resources...
Selected lecture

Electromagnetic forces

The electric vectors of PKS0521-36 show clear structure and alignment. Credit: Keel.

"The emission of electromagnetic radiation from a superluminal (faster-than-light in vacuo) charged particle [is such] that no physical principle forbids emission by extended, massless superluminal sources. A polarization current density (dP/dt; see Maxwell's fourth equation) can provide such a source; the individual charged particles creating the polarization do not move faster than c, the speed of light, and yet it is relatively trivial to make the envelope of the polarization current density to do so."[1]

The "emitted radiation has many unusual characteristics, including: (i) the intensity of some components decays as the inverse of the distance from the source, rather than as 1/(distance)2 (i.e. these components are non-spherically-decaying); (ii) the emission is tightly beamed, the exact direction of the beam depending on the source speed; and (iii) the emission contains very high frequencies not present in the synthesis of the source. Note that the non-spherically decaying components of the radiation do not violate energy conservation. They result from the reception, during a short time period, of radiation emitted over a considerably longer period of (retarded) source time; their strong electromagnetic fields are compensated by weak fields elsewhere [1]."[1]

The "emission occupies a very small polar angular width of order 0.8 degrees in the far field. Based on these findings, we suggest that a superluminal source could act as a highly directional transmitter of MHz or THz signals over very long distances."[1]

"The magnetic field is well-ordered in many jets, as shown by polarization measurements. Synchrotron radiation can be very highly polarized (50%) if the field is globally ordered, and some sources [approach] this level. The electric vectors show clear structure and alignment; an especially common pattern is for the field lines to be along the jet in the inner portions and transition to an azimuthal configuration farther out. This is seen in [PKS0521-36 at 2 cm]."[2]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 J. Singleton, A. Ardavan, H. Ardavan, J. Fopma and D. Halliday (2005). Non-spherically-decaying radiation from an oscillating superluminal polarization current: possible low-power, deep-space communication applications in the MHz and THz bands, 16th International Symposium on Space Terahertz Technology (PDF). p. 117. Retrieved 2014-03-18. 
  2. Bill Keel (October 2003). Jets, Superluminal Motion, and Gamma-Ray Bursts. Tucson, Arizona USA: University of Arizona. Retrieved 2014-03-19. 
Selected theory


Main sources: Draft:Cosmogony and Cosmogony
This is an image of the painting about Urknall. Credit: Hans Breinlinger.

Cosmogony is any scientific theory concerning the coming into existence, or origin, of the cosmos or universe, or about how what sentient beings perceive as "reality" came to be.

Usually, the philosophy of cause and effect needs a beginning, a first cause. Modal logic may only require a probability rather than a sequence of events. The concept of uncountable suggests an unknown somewhere between a finite number of likely rationales and an infinite number of possibilities.

From a sense of time as moving forward from yesterday to today and onward to tomorrow, there is again a suggestion of a prehistoric time before the first hominins.

The use of any system of thought or emotion to perceive reality suggests that some existences may precede others.

When more detail becomes available an existence may be transformed into something, an entity, a source, an object, a rocky object, or out of existence.

As a topic in astronomy, cosmogony deals with the origin of each astronomical entity.

Observation, for example, using radiation astronomy may provide some details.

Theoretical astronomy may provide some understanding, or at least some perspective.

In astronomy, cosmogony refers to the study of the origin of particular astrophysical objects or systems, and is most commonly used in reference to the origin of the solar system.[1][2]


  1. Ian Ridpath (2012). A Dictionary of Astronomy. Oxford University Press. 
  2. M. M. Woolfson (1979). "Cosmogony Today". Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society 20 (2): 97-114. 
Selected topic


This graph shows the power density spectrum of the extragalactic or cosmic gamma-ray background (CGB). Credit: pkisscs@konkoly.hu.

In the figure at right, CUVOB stands for the cosmic ultraviolet and optical background.

The diffuse extragalactic background light (EBL) is all the accumulated radiation in the Universe due to star formation processes, plus a contribution from active galactic nuclei (AGNs). This radiation covers the wavelength range between ~ 0.1-1000 microns (these are the ultraviolet, optical, and infrared regions of the electromagnetic spectrum). The EBL is part of the diffuse extragalactic background radiation (DEBRA), which by definition covers the overall electromagnetic spectrum. After the cosmic microwave background, the EBL produces the second-most energetic diffuse background, thus being essential for understanding the full energy balance of the universe.

Selected image
Orion-Eridanus Bubble.gif

This ROSAT PSPC false-color image is of a portion of a nearby stellar wind superbubble (the Orion-Eridanus Bubble) stretching across the constellations Eridanus and Orion. Credit: David Burrows and Zhiyu Guo, Penn State Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics.

Selected lesson

First gamma-ray source in Triangulum Australe

The first gamma-ray source in Triangulum Australe is unknown.

The field of gamma-ray astronomy is the result of observations and theories about gamma-ray sources detected in the sky above.

The first astronomical gamma-ray source discovered may have been the Sun.

But, gamma-rays from the Sun do not penetrate far enough into the Earth's atmosphere to be detected on the ground.

The early use of sounding rockets and balloons to carry detectors high enough may have detected gamma-rays from the Sun as early as the 1940s.

This is a lesson in map reading, coordinate matching, and searching. It is also a project in the history of gamma-ray astronomy looking for the first astronomical gamma-ray source discovered in the constellation of Triangulum Australe.

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

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

Selected quiz

Radiation astrochemistry quiz

This is a natural color image of Titan. Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute.

Radiation chemistry, or astronomical radiation chemistry, is a lecture for the course principles of radiation astronomy about the abundance and reactions of chemical elements and molecules in the universe.

You are free to take this quiz at any time and as many times as you wish to improve your score.

Once you’ve read and studied the lecture, the links contained within, and listed under See also, External links and those in the {{principles of radiation astronomy}} template, you should have adequate background to get 100 %.

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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