Friday, August 14, 2009

Wolfram|Alpha for Stargazers

Whether you are an astronomy student or just interested in learning more about those points of light in our sky, Wolfram|Alpha contains star data that will help you get started and understand what you’re seeing up there. Wolfram|Alpha not only charts the stars from your location, but offers detailed information including their distance from Earth, color, size, and much more.

To figure out which stars are the most visible to you, simply enter “10 brightest stars“. The query’s results indicate that the brightest stars as seen from Earth are the Sun, Sirius, Canopus, Arcturus, Rigel Kentaurus A, Vega, Capella, Rigel, Procyon, and Betelgeuse. Pods show comparisons of the stars’ size, their equilateral locations, and their locations in the current sky (not necessarily the night sky—unless you specify a time/location, Wolfram|Alpha assumes the current time from your current location).


The bright stars Capella, Betelgeuse, and Arcturus are all visible at night or before sunrise from Champaign, Illinois, USA, depending on the season. If you enter “Capella, Betelgeuse, Arcturus” into Wolfram|Alpha you’ll get a comparison of the three stars. It can tell you, for instance, that Betelgeuse, a super giant, is the largest of the three, and that Arcturus, which is found in the constellation of Bo├Âtes, is much closer to Earth than either Betelgeuse or Rigel. Capella and Betelguese are most easily seen on winter nights, whereas Arcturus is most easily seen on a spring night in the Northern Hemisphere. So repeat your query as time progresses to get current information. You can also add a date to your query to see where a star was, or will be, on a specific date.

Wolfram|Alpha is a fast and simple tool on your computer or mobile device to help you become more familiar with astronomy and stargazing . Enthusiasts have been discussing stargazing and other astronomy topics in the Wolfram|Alpha Community—please join the conversation there, and stay tuned for future blog posts about Wolfram|Alpha astronomical data.