Astronomy on the World Wide Web

As regular readers of this column are aware, I am an astronomy teacher. I teach both high-school and college astronomy for teachers (online) and am involved in several organizations and astronomy programs. I maintain a collection of links at, which lists dozens of links sorted by category.

There’s also a link to my online class, Astronomy and the WWW. Consequently, I have looked at hundreds of astronomy Web pages over the years, and while I can’t claim to have seen everything, I have seen enough that I can begin to get a little picky about what I recommend.

What follows are 10 of the best astronomy links on the Web. What you notice about these sites is the emphasis on content and the lack of annoying popup windows. (Kind of like Low End Mac, eh?) Some don’t even advertise, as they aren’t selling anything. Remember, it’s all about getting useful and meaningful content.

Planetary Badge of Merit

These sites are hereby awarded the Planetary Badge of Merit, signifying that the content of these sites is so useful that they should be a standard resource for the entire planet. Those folks in the USA and in other parts of the world who aren’t English speakers would benefit from translating these sites with one of the free translations services available on the Net, such as the Babelfish service.

What it means in a more practical sense is that each of these sites will be featured as an site of the week. Enjoy!

Here they are, in no particular order:’s 2001 Planetary Badge of Merit for Astronomy Education on the Web awardees.

Bill Arnett’s Nine Planets

This is arguably the best planet site on the Web, bar none – including NASA. Bill Arnett has for many years maintained a current, well-organized, and content-packed site on every significant object in the solar system. Thousands of students undoubtedly owe at debt of thanks to Arnett for making information, from the origin of the names of objects to the latest NASA research, easy to find and accessible. This site is so big that it is mirrored all over the world; there’s even an application form to become a mirror, and, properly installed, the mirrors update themselves!

Although the content of Bob Urschel’s site is narrowly focused on the apparent motion of the sun in the sky on an annual basis, is a wonderful example of how to present content. It has animated demonstrations, text explanations, and mathematical derivations. Content is split between advanced and beginner levels, so anyone who is interested can benefit. This is one of the most attractive and well-presented educational sites I have ever seen. When you get to the splash screen, click on the words under the picture to begin.

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Authors Robert Nemiroff and Jerry Bonnell have maintained APOD since 1995, and have collected hundreds of pictures, complete with explanations, hyperlinks, and related topics. Each day a new and interesting picture appears; it is accompanied by an explanation by a professional astronomer. Best of all, all past pictures are archived for your edification. APOD is great way to start the day in astronomy class.

Bad Astronomy

Phil Plait has started a vendetta against the incorrect use of astronomy in movies, television reports, and other public venues. His most important work has been attempting to neutralize Fox television’s perfectly horrible Moon Hoax show. There may be sites which are more important astronomy and are more important to education, but few are more important to astronomy education.

The SETI Institute

What could be more important than searching for alien life? These folks are the real deal: they’re the ones who are listening for signals, doing serious research, and produce a tremendous amount of public outreach materials, especially education materials.

SETI at Home

This is the famous project that lets you help compute the signals from the noise received by radio telescopes looking for ET. It’s not the same group as listed above, but they do know about each other. This is the granddaddy of all distributed computing projects (at least, at the ordinary human consumer level.) And a cool screen saver too.

The Exploratorium’s Observatory Page

The world-famous San Francisco Exploratorium maintains a page with several good activities. The bottom of the page has a link to their astronomy page, which contains annotated links concentrating on astronomy education.

Students for the Exploration and Development of Space

This student-based group has chapters in dozens of universities and maintains a high-quality Web site with categorized pictures perfect for that last minute school report. Just don’t forget to cite the source!

Sky and Telescope

Of all the commercial sites dealing with astronomy, none commands more respect that the venerable Sky and Telescope site. Sky and Telescope packs their site with useful content, instead of just using the site as a way of promoting the print magazine. Advertising pitches are there, to be sure, but they aren’t in popup windows or taking up half of the space on the page.


NASA has all the content, but can you find it? Years ago, NASA split its operations over several states in order to curry congressional favor. Each of these sites now hosts its own website, making it difficult to find exactly what you need in some cases. Much of the content is educational – if only the other government agencies had a mandate to present what is known and took the job so seriously!

Keywords: #astronomy #astronomyonline #astronomyontheweb #astronomyresources

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