10 things you should never ask an astronomer

Article written by: Heather Alexander

This article has been inspired by the many questions we get asked here at the Armagh Observatory and Planetarium. We love being asked questions but we thought it would be funny to have a look at the questions you really should never ask an Astronomer. We hope this gives you a bit of a laugh!

 

Can you name every star in the sky? 

This is a silly question to ask anyone, not just an astronomer. Yes, we know a lot of star names, but to know all of them is impossible. You have to realise that some stars have names such as VY Canis Majoris, which is easy to remember, but others have names that are just a series of letters and numbers, which is not so easy to remember. 

M13. Observed through binoculars this ‘fuzzy ball’ contains approximately 100 000 stars held together by their own gravity. Where open clusters contain mostly young stars and are more difficult to spot due to their loose structure, denser globular clusters like this one are composed primarily of different kinds of giant stars that are ‘in their old age’ and that have already completed their main sequence. Credit: Copyright: Martin Pugh/NASA

Can I have a look through your telescope? 

Common question and the answer is no. A lot of the time people think astronomers are sitting on chairs actually looking through telescopes, however that is not how it is done now. We have to gain access to the telescopes we require and then you remotely observe. You then get the results on your computer screen and you then have to decipher the data. It’s not as simple as looking through a telescope and seeing a star. Also do you know how long we’ve waited to get access to remotely observe? We’re going to be selfish and keep that to yourselves!  

The 22m diameter Mopra radio telescope, sited at the foot of Siding Spring Observatory in New South Wales, Australia. Here Armagh Director Michael Burton is pointing to the telescope, and provides a sense of scale for the size of the dish. No-one looks through the telescope, however! (Image credit: Michael Burton)

Is the Earth flat? 

You can ask this question but we’ll just walk away. Okay, we won’t just walk away, we will tell you why the Earth is definitely not flat, and then walk away. 

Image of Earth from Apollo 15

Big Blue: Earth photographed by the crew of Apollo 15. (Image credit: NASA)

What have you discovered lately? 

Our question to you is “well…what have you discovered recently?” We don’t discover new things every day. Sometimes our research can take years upon years to complete, if we even can complete it. If we discover something along the way, that is absolutely fantastic, name it after us and we will keep working on what we’ve been doing.  

Do you know (insert famous astronomer name here)? 

The field of astronomy and astrophysics is a much bigger field than you think. We may have heard of the person you’re referring to, and appreciate the work they do, but there is a chance we may never have met them.  

Brian Cox and Dara O Briain hosting the Sky at Night Show.

Have you ever been to space? 

We’re astronomers, not astronauts so sadly we have not been to space. It would be really cool though! 

image of the Mercury 7

Magnificent Seven: The lucky first astronauts recruited by NASA. Image credit: NASA)

Do you only work at night? 

You may be surprised to learn this but astronomers don’t only work at night! Some of us do, but most of the time we try and work a regular day, like everyone else.  

Did people really walk on the moon? 

You will get the same reaction to this question as you would to question 3. We will explain to you that people definitely did walk on the moon, and then walk away.  

This interior view of the Apollo 11 Lunar Module shows Astronaut Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr., lunar module pilot, during the lunar landing mission. This picture was taken by Astronaut Neil A. Armstrong, commander, prior to the Moon landing.

Can you name all the moons of Jupiter? 

This is a bit like question 1. Jupiter has 69 moons. Knowing every single one is a bit tricky. Some of us might know them all, and it’s a great party trick, but we need to be focusing more on our research and our particular area of interest.  

What was that thing is saw in the sky last night? 

Please do ask us this! One thing we will advise though is either try and take a photograph, or make sure you know exactly which direction you’re looking. The more information you can give us, the more likely we are to be able to answer this question. If it had red blinking lights, it was an aeroplane.  

 

Well what did you think? Was this article able to give you a bit of a chuckle? Is there anything you would really LOVE to ask us? Leave a comment below and we will try and answer as many questions as possible.