Online Astronomy Resources for Writers

August 5th, 2008

I throw a lot of links at the writers attending the Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop for Writers. I usually do it on the fly before a lecture, or embedded within lecture slides. It made sense to pull them out and to put them in one place with a little organization. The idea is that these sites have lasting and specialized value to the writer wanting or needing to include astronomy in their work. I’ll be maintaining and making future edits to the list (attendees are contributing, too), so please feel free to suggest a key site if you think I’ve overlooked one. Here they are for the attendees and the public. Enjoy!

General Astronomy Information and News

Bad Astronomy: Phil Plait’s Blog is an excellent source of basic astronomy information and news in the field.

Centauri Dreams: The News Forum of the Tau Zero Foundation One of several websites I like doing a consistently good job of covering astronomy news. You can sign up for a weekly email summary of stories.

Hard SF Writer’s Bookshelf: My list of some books on my bookshelf that I pull out to share with Launch Pad participants.


Astronomy Picture of the Day: Always really cool and the archive is now vast. Visit every day.

Professional Papers and Resources

astro-ph astronomy journal preprint server features abstracts and new papers just being released.

NASA Extragalactic Database (NED) is handy for detailed information about extragalactic sources.

The National Virtual Observatory (NVO) is a way to put together archival, public astronomical data.

NASA’s Astrophysical Data Server (ADS): Lots of basic information, scanned reference books, and abstract search for journal articles.

Size Scales

Powers of Ten and Cosmic Voyages are two excellent films illustrating the basic size scales of the universe.

3D Star Maps: Really cool resource designed for sf writers.

Cycles in the Sky

Phases of the Moon: One of several nice websites illustrating this basic explanation. This one is better than many.

One page about the seasons that gets the explanation right and addresses some common questions and misconceptions.

In general, it is possible to know what the sky looks like at any given time from any given place on Earth (assuming no clouds), in the past or in the future. Check out Sky & Telescope’s Interactive Sky Chart.


A Private Universe is a movie showcasing the issue of misconceptions in science with particular focus on the seasons and phases of the moon.

Phil Plait on some common astronomical misconceptions. Another page. Yet another. A lot of misconceptions. Get them right when you write, or intentionally play off them.

Solar System

There are a lot of good websites for solar system information. One is


An interactive Hertzsprung-Russell diagram. Fundamental to how we understand stars.

Star Clock is a program you can run on your PC that shows stellar evolution as a function of time on the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram. I used it when plotting my novel Spider Star.


Awesome page about the Galactic Center and the supermassive black hole that lives there.

Galaxy simulations are cool. Here are some pages I like: Joshua Barnes, John Dubinksi, Chris Mihos:

Galaxy Zoo: A hands-on way of learning about galaxies.

Estimating Distances to Nearby Galaxies with Cepheid Variables.

My introduction to dark matter.


Ned Wright: Ned is a professor of astronomy at UCLA. His website has very nice tutorials with good animations and FAQs about cosmology, as well as a “cosmology calculator” that lets you get quantitative.

Wayne Hu: Another nice set of tutorials, with excellent illustrations. Specialty is here the cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation.

My introduction to dark energy.

Exoplanets A nice compilation of information about exoplanets that have been discovered.

How to Design a Solar System. Nice little webpage walking through building an alien solar system, from stars to planets.

Workshop Materials

Horizons by Michael Seeds. This is the textbook I use in introductory astronomy and which I give to Launch Pad participants.

Some Workshop Slides (best viewed with Internet Explorer) based on Horizons about: Size Scales, Light and Astronomical Tools, Stars, exoplanets, Galaxies, Dark Matter, Cosmology

Be patient if the department server is cranky.


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