General Solar System Space Observatories & Bodies

Astronomy links

These links are particularly appropriate for our level 1 Astronomy class. They are grouped under 4 main headings: GENERAL, SOLAR SYSTEM, SPACE and OBSERVATORIES & BODIES. Apologies for broken links. Please e-mail any suggested updates for these to the address at the foot of the page.


Stellarium is a free, downloadable program that helps you identify what you can see on a starry night in any direction. You can superimpose both schematic and artistic constellation outlines, superimpose co-ordinates, speed up the rotation of the sky and zoom in, but it is not too cluttered with options and is simple to use. You can set your location. Aberdeen's is 57 degrees North, 2 degrees West and about 30 m in height. You can put a copy on your own PC or use the copy in the computer class-rooms that is in the Physics group of programmes. Highly recommended.

Astroweb from the University of Strasbourg lists some 3000 astronomy related web sites containing pictures, down-loadable programs, detail of research programs, astronomical departments and societies and much more. Its homepage is nicely divided into clear categories BUT IS NO LONGER BEING KEPT UP-TO-DATE.

For a meta-site along the lines of this page, with a better index but not tailored to our course, look at

For more information about the 88 constellations, see the IAU constellations site which has downloadable maps for each constellation.

A detailed browsable on-line dictionary of astronomy. This is not the site I originally linked to but seems to be an IAU work in progress.

A good version of the Messier catalogue

The NASA catalogue of on-line books may be helpful

Jim Kaler supplements his excellent books by a very useful web-site that helps you find what's in the constellations and includes many 'star stories' from recent discoveries to their historical associations

Windows to the Universe is a wide-ranging site giving quick access to summary information and links to explore specific interests.

The Astronomy Cafe is a highly recommended site run by professional astronomer Sten Odenwald who answers visitors questions (over 2000 are posted) and has good web links to other sites.

Nasa Spacelink gets you to Nasa's resource centre especially for teachers and astronomy classes.

Las Cumbres Observatory has an on-line astronomy textbook written by observers,  Star in a Box (an interactive tool for investigating stars’ lives), Messier Bingo (an interactive game to explore types of astronomical objects and observe them) and Serol's Cosmic Explorers (a virtual learning environment with sets of observing challenges and stories).

The Space Educators' Handbook specilizes in peripheral material from comics to quotes.

New Scientist Space is the web page of the New Scientist magazine that includes up-to-date news and articles relevant to astronomy and space, and previous items. There is easy access from there to all other New Scientist's web pages.

Astronomy news is well displayed here. Also worth visiting is Sky at Night which claims to be the most popular English-speaking astronomy magazine for the enthusiast. Look at Sky & Telescope's 'observing' pages for a view of what to see in the sky just now, including the whereabouts of the planets.

Calsky is a comprehensive site for showing events to be seen in the sky. You can customize what it shows and it takes account of your location. Definitely recommended

The web page of Jay M. Pasachoff supports the astronomy textbook THE COSMOS (Cengage, 3ed edn 2007; ISBN 0-495-01303-X) which is pitched at the same level as the text for this course. You can try this site in addition to the site supporting the course text IN QUEST OF THE UNIVERSE. Earlier editions of the book were quite affordable (around £20 from memory) but the price of the current (7th) edition is indeed 'astronomical'.

Project CLEA is based in Gettysburg University (USA) and develops laboratory exercises that illustrate modern astronomical techniques. Each CLEA laboratory exercise includes a dedicated computer program, a student manual, and a technical guide for the instructor. The technical guides describe file formats, user-settable options, and algorithms used in the programs.

In case you missed the reference on our astronomy home page then Zooniverse allows you to participate in real science projects such as classifying some of over a million galaxies imaged in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, looking for exo-planets, studng lunar features, looking for wind patterns on Mars and more.

An access page for all current and recent missions is offer by NASA.

There are lots of sites introducing astronomy apps for phones such as 15 best astronomy applications for iphone.

Solar System

The nine planets is a collection of many pages that contain information about the Solar System. Yes, they know there are only 8 full planes now. It is intended for a general audience but is kept up-to-date. All the technical terms and proper names are defined in the glossary. There is one page for each major body in the Solar System. Each page has:

  • a large picture of its object and usually several smaller thumbnail images (all linked to their full-size originals)
  • some scientific and historical facts about it
  • if the object has satellites then its page has a table of data on them and links to their pages
  • links to more images and information about the object elsewhere on the Web, and
  • a list of open issues for which we as yet have no answers.

There are also a few miscellaneous pages: on planetary science spacecraft, the glossary, a comprehensive list of planetary images available elsewhere on the Net, some bits of history, several pages of data and a special plea for your support of the space program.

An excellent source of pictures is NASA's Planetary photojournal site.

JPL's solar system simulator lets you see the view you will get of any planet and a range of moons from an almost equally wide range of chosen places. You can see very clearly how much of thee sunlit part of your chosen object is visible.

The Minor Planets Centre has excellent plots of the inner and outer solar system including many minor planets, lists of objects with unusual orbits, a list of forthcoming close approaches to Earth, and more. See also NASA's near earth object program. This site includes java applets showing animated near Earth asteroid orbits. Spacewatch is a programme that looks to detect asteroids and comets in particular. For more on Comets, see under the 'Earth' section below.

The NEAR site shows impressive pictures of the asteroid Eros that NASA explored with a satellite in orbit around the asteroid.

This link gets you to a quick reference table of all NASA's Space Science Missions, past, operating, in development and under study.

The jet propulsion laboratory home page has many high quality pictures with informative captions concerning both past and future missions

The SOHO misssion, still going in 2014, is one of the most successful probes of the 1990s, involving the continuous observation of the Sun from a vantage point about 1.5 million kilometers closer than the Earth. SOHO has greatly increased our knowledge of the Sun. X-ray and gamma ray images of the Sun can be seen at the Yohkoh site and its follow up Solar-B (Hinode). See Ulysses for the mission to study the Sun's polar regions, not well seen from the Earth. Ulysses has now stopped data collection. The Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) is now the prime site for solar images. Also important for imaging the Sun is the Stereo mission in which 2 satellites, one trailing and one leading the Earth, are looking at the Sun. You can also find quite reliable sunspot cycle predictions at the Marshall Spce Flight Centre.

For science news and information about all aspects of the Sun-Earth environment, see the Spaceweather site and for technical information go to the National Geophysics Data Center or NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center . Launched in 2001 specially to study space weather is ESA's CLUSTER II mission. Bringing some of this science together is the International Solar Terrestrial Physics Program. An excellent over view of solar physics can be found at the Marshall Space Flight Center in the 'solar structure' menu.

For a picture of the current phase of your chosen solar system object as seen from the Earth, see the diskmap site of the U.S. Naval Observatory.


NASA's MESSENGER mission was launched in 2004 and is now (2014) orbiting Mercury after 3 fly-bys. It is exploring the planet's chemistry, physical evolution, geological history, atmosphere, magnetosphere, and plasma environment.


ESA's Venus Express now orbiting the planet has been given an extend life until end 2014.


Mars missions rovers Spirit and Opportunity continue to send back data. The rover of the moment is Curiosity aka the Mars Science Laboratory that is heading towards Mt Sharp. See 2001 Mars Odyssey and the robotic geologists.

Mars Global Surveyor pictures are available to the world. The Global Surveyor has been replaced by the 2001 Odyssey (see line above) which has very good pictures of the day.

ESAs Mars Express was successfully put into operational polar orbit in Jan 2004 and is planned to continue until December 2014. The contemporary British Beagle 2 exo-biology lander is a silent footnote to this mission.

The first of NASA's next generation of scouting missions was Phoenix, which landed in the polar region of Mars in May 2008. It looked at the history of Mars' ice and in particular whether the frozen Martian soil contains residues of past life. Phoenix is led by the University of Arizona and made mostly of parts from previous failed missions - hence its name, and the connection with the town of Phoenix in Arizona.


The Galileo project home page includes lots of pictures taken during the Galileo project. I should mention the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE), Europe's first large mission to the outer solar system. It's launch date is set for 2022, arrival date 2030 followed by a few years of observation. How old will you be before the results come in? Of course this highlights how long many of the missions linked to here actually take between idea, securing funding, building, launch, travel, observations and results: most of the working life of those who start a mission.


ESA's Cassini-Huygens probe is summarised, with active links to detailed experiments. JPL's page on the Cassini probe also gives the latest on the mission status.The Cassini central imaging site is CICLOPS.

Earth/Moon have an iPhone/Android Mobile Moon App showing the current Moon and quite some more . They also have a Moon calendar and lots of other 'stuff' relating to the Moon.

View the Earth or Moon in simulation from selected locations in space. Well worth exploring. Over one hundred thousand real pictures of the moon are available from the Clementine mission. The Digital Lunar Orbiter Photographic Atlas of the Moon gives web access with good search facilities to high resolution (100 m) images taken by the successful lunar orbiter reconnaissance cameras in 1966/67. A good site for matching what you see on the Moon through binoculars to named features is The Hitchikers Guide to the Moon. Topographic images of unprecedented detail can be seen on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Goddard Space Flight Centre web page. The orbitor spent a long time orbiting just 50 km abover the lunar surface. The mission is still in progress in 2013.

Chang'e 3 is the 3rd Chinese mission to the Moon, this one dropping a lander 'Jade Rabbit' that was sxheduled to travel several km with 7 instruments and a camera but developed a fault.

The GRAIL mission to measure the thickness of the lunar crust (and other details of the Moon's internal structure) by measuring very small variations in the strength of gravity experienced by an orbiting craft has finished, with remarkable results. This mission follows on from the more extended GRACE mission orbiting the Earth.

Nasa has produced a stunning view of the earth at night. Updated images taken in 2012 of the whole Earth at night show that half of Scotland ranks among the best dark sites in Europe to see the night sky.

The Constellations and their Stars is a very useful reference to the shape, whereabouts and legends associated with the constellations and all the stars with historic names. From another site, you can download monthly sky maps, and another offers clickable star maps. An applet showing stars visible in a particular direction at any time of the night at any place, with optional constellation figures, can be downloaded from the stargazer site. Finally, don't miss your sky an interactive planetarium that produces sky maps for your own location, with pan and zoom control, and more.

You can be involved in a world-wide survey of the naked-eye visibility of the stars from where you are.

The Nightskyhunter has lots about observing comets, details of his own telescopes and comet links. NASA summarises a list of missions relevant to comets. Another good site to find comet information is the International Comet Quarterly comet information website. NASA's Deep Impact mission to collide with a comet in July 2005 has been even more successful than hoped for. The stardust mission has returned collected material from comet Wild 2. On its way is ESA's very ambitious Rosetta mission that should not be missed. It is flying close to the nucleus of comet 67 P/Churyumov- Gerasimenko and will release a lander. It is shadowing the comet from further out than Mars and should do so until the comet has swung past the Sun. Stunning pictures from Rosetta, and much more.

The International Meteor Organisation offers a prime page for meteors. So, too, does the page of the American Meteor Society. For something very close at hand, look at the site devoted to terrestrial impact craters. Worth going to is the Natural History Museum's meteorite page.

Observer's notes is a good supporting page for an introductory astronomy course. It gives details of how and when to make naked eye observations of stars, planets, meteors and other objects. There are hints on buying and using a telescope. Local detail refers to Los Angeles but most of the information is very useful. An example of a useful amateur astronomical page is David Howarth's contribution.

A UK Aurora Watch web site operated by the University of Lancaster shows current activity and offers a service that will e-mail you when there is an auroral alert. An excellent Aurora page provides a guide to the Northern lights, a good tutorial description, predictions of forthcoming activity and more. NOAA provide a real-time plot of the auroral oval from data gathered by their POES satellite. Further real-time data is available from the Canopus project of the Canadian Space Agency. See also Auroras: Paintings in the Sky and try the University of Alaska Geophysical Institute. You can see the see the solar wind speed and interplanetary magnetic field direction about 1 hour before it reaches Earth thanks to the aging but still working ACE probe about 1.5 million km nearer the Sun.

In late 2012 NASA launched the twin Van Allen Probes into a highly eccentric orbit to measure the electric and magnetic fields and the energetic particle spectrum in the Van Allen belts, the region around the Earth that is the most damaging to spacecraft and to astronauts passing through. Particles in this region can have energies up to a thousand times that of the damaging radiations of radioactivity. Complementing this mission is ESA's SWARM, 3 satellites launched in 2013 to investigate the Earth's geomagnetic field..

Cubesats are miniture satellites of a litre in size, often built by academic institutions. UKube-1, the UK's first cubesat mission has been built in Scotland (not from girders) and is due to be launched in 2014 on a Soyuz-2 rocket. It includes an amateur radio transponder and a student project from UKSEDS (UK Students for the Exploration and Development of Space).

The Bradford telescope is a remote autonomous 46 cm telescope located in the Yorkshire Moors. Anyone on the Internet can register and ask the telescope to look at anything in the northern night sky. Observations are automatically prioritised and scheduled and completed by the telescope as time allows. Other data (weather information and reports) are obtained and updated on this site automatically every day.

The Gemini Project has involved building two state-of-the-art telescopes, each with 8.1m diameter objectives. Gemini 'North' is in Hawaii and Gemini 'South' one in Chile. Between them they can scan the entire sky. Both are contributing stunning images and a lot of new science. Britain wais contributing 25% to the international consortium effort but has pulled out 'to save money'.

For the vicarious observer, you can examine views of the complete sky in great detail over the full spectral range by visiting sky view. You'll need to remember the definitions of right ascension and declination, and know whereabouts in the sky objects of interest to you are. More people may need to resort to a virtual view with increasing light pollution around the globe. This site, associated with a US retailer of light fittings, has a good introduction to light pollution.

If you'd like to enthuse young friends or relatives about astronomy, do try astronomy with a stick.

NASA's Space station pages let you follow the international space station program.

A set of short historical lectures from Greek ideas to Einstein with special emphasis on the revolutions of thought introduced by Galileo, Newton and Einstein. With original quotations and some applets.

Gravity Probe-B, a mission to test Einstein's theory of General Relativity that has input from Physics in the University of Aberdeen has produced its definitive results in in favour of Einstein.


The eclipse home page from NASA is a first stop for any eclipse enquiry. It gives details of the next solar and lunar eclipses as well as guides to eclipse photography, links to several publications, and much more. Scroll down below the logo to see the large list of links.

A simple interpretative site worth visiting is Hermit eclipse. For all the 215 solar eclipses visible from Aberdeen over 600 years from 1501 to the end of this century see the Nautical Almanac Office site which shows animations of each one.


Looking for objects? Clusters and nebulae visible with binoculars can be readily located. The deep sky database will tell you the location of galaxies, clusters, nebulae, unusual objects, Messier and Herschel catalogue objects and more in any constellation.

The Hubble gallery of galaxies contains many wonderful images.

The Hipparcos mission site tells you about the incredible stellar distance measuring program that has given us much more accurate distances for over 100,000 stars out to about 1000 parsecs away. The sequel to this, the ambitious Gaia mission has been launched by ESA and has reached the L2 Lagrange point. It aims to determine distances and produce a 3D map of our local group containing about 1 billion stars.

For a well referenced guide to the search and discovery of planets orbiting around stars other than the Sun, see NASA's Planetquest site or the Paris Observatory's Extrasolar Planets Encyclopaedia. Visit a leading research site for the Exoplanet Data Explorer.

Among the many projects searching for extra-solar planets are Britain's SuperWASP and ESA's CoRoT, terminated in 2013. Nasa's Kepler mission to observe transiting planets from space has also been obseving since 2009 with stunning results. However in 2013 it had to stop observing transits when two of its stabilising reaction wheels stopped working properly.

The next few links move progressively up the electromagnetic spectrum. One of the big developments of the next decade will be Ska, not Jamaican music but the Square Kilometer Array, the 'biggest radio telescope in the world' being built in South Africa and Australia. Perhaps not far behind in size is Lofar, a multinational radio astronomy initiative based in the Netherlands and spreading over Europe.

The UK is one of the world leaders in submillimetre astronomy, at the boundary between microwaves and the far infra-red, making high resolution imaging and photometry through the project SCUBA-2. This project is based at the James Clerk Maxwell telescope at Mauna Kea in Hawaii, which the UK is pulling out of for financial reasons in spite of its success.

The cosmic microwave background is a topic we'll hear more about in coming years. The first site to visit is the WMA project. The Boomerang project among others confirmed that the spatial fluctuations in the background are consistent with a Euclidean geometry for the entire Universe. In the usual jargon, the Universe is spatially 'flat'. A mission that has revolutionised the quality of data that supports modern cosmology is ESA's Planck, that has now finished observing. Planck measured very precisely irregularities in the microwave background and reported its frst results in Spring 2013.

Infra-red Astronomy is particularly good at imaging cool objects, dust, gas, nebulae and objects generally hidden from visible light telescopes. The sky in the near infrared can be seen through the continuing work of the 2 micron all sky survey. The northern hemisphere's largest telescope dedicated to the infra-red is the United Kingdom Infra Red Telescope (UKIRT) in Hawaii, sadly also transferring to a new owner. Launched in 2003, NASA's Spitzer telescope is the largest in space. Sofia (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy), an airborne 2.5 m telescope in a Boeing 747, has taken first star-light. So too has ESA's Herschel mission, launched in 2009, to explore the IR and microwave universe, taking spectra with unprecidented resolution. It has now reached the end of its mission (having run out of liquid helium coolant).

Going up the electromagnetic energy spectrum, the Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer (FUSE) program has now finished but has supplied unique spectral information in the 90 - 120 nm wavelength range used to pin down the distribution of deuterium and other elements in our galaxy.

X-ray Astronomy is the subject of NASA's Chandra X-ray observatory, launched in 1999. For the latest images, see Chandra News. The European Space Agency launched the impressive X-ray Multi-mirror Telescope (XMM) in December 1999 to explore some of the most violent regions in the Universe such as quasars, galactic nuclei and black hole binary star systems. Other X-ray missions that have finished observing and produced lots of results are the Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer (RXTE), used in particular by Scottish astronomy departments, and ROSAT.

The sky observed at even higher energies with fine energy resolution is the remit of several measuring and mapping experiments aboard ESA's Integral (International Gamma Ray Astrophysics Laboratory) mission, due to run until December 2014. Observations between 15keV and 10 Mev will provide insight into the violence of the universe. NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope (formerly called GLAST) mission detects events in the energy range 8 keV to 300 GeV, events including those from very violent processes in the universe.

Very high energy cosmic rays, some produced by the most violent events in the universe, are becoming the subject of a several international projects, opening a new window on the Universe. These include the Pierre Auger Observatory (in S. America), the HESS telescopes (in Africa) and the MAGIC telescope (in the Canaries).

NASA's high energy astronomy video archive has animations and a section of historical videos.

Off the electromagnetic spectrum and into elementary particles, neutrinos now play a central role in astrophysics, if not cosmology. Central to their role has been the question of whether they have a miniscule mass, which has being decided by neutrino oscillation experiments. Among many experiments world-wide, most impressive is IceCube, designed to look for high-energy neutrinos and now incorporating the Amanda experiment. Some other well-known ones are Antares, being put in place under the Mediterranean Sea; SNO, down a mine in Sudbury, and Super-Kamiokande, an international collaboration deep in a hill in Japan.

Is there life out there? For some serious science in this area look at NASA's astrobiology pages and the Astrobiology web. For a useful resource on projects to investigate the nature, distribution and prevalence of life in the Universe, see the SETI homepage.

There is a lot more on the web than a few years ago on the subject of astrophysical chemistry, molecules in space, or astrochemistry but we'll hear more about this branch in coming years. Closely connected with astrochemistry is the work of John Parnell in the University of Aberdeen's Department of Geology & Petroleum Geology.

Ever wondered about the orbits of multiple star systems? There's a lot on the web about this difficult problem but for some Java applets look at the site look at the Collection of Remarkable 3-body Motions.

For something a bit different, try a virtual trip to a black hole or neutron star with mpeg animation and explanation.

The more serious astronomer should look at the Aladin Sky Atlas which is a java based facility allowing you to produce your own annotated star maps. Also from the University of Strasbourg for the serious astronomer are on-line databases such as Simbad that allow access to star catalogues with over 2 million astronomical objects. See also the Digitised Sky Survey. Progress is going well towards an international virtual observatory that will embody a collection of web-based software tools accessing interoperable astronomical databases.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST)

Pictures from the Hubble Space Telescope includes loads of pictures from Hubble as well as press releases about the telescope.

Future missions

ESA's 'Cosmic Vision' missions over the approximately the next 10 years have been decided. They include BebiColombo, an exploration of planet Mercury, the Laser Interferometric Space Antenna (LISA), a joint project with NASA to put a gravitational wave detector into space, a 15% contribution to the James Webb Telescope (formerly known as the Next Generation Space Telescope, Hubble's successor), now scheduled for launch in 2018, and Solar Orbiter, a probe designed to fly much closer to the Sun than Mercury. There is input to LISA from Glasgow University and to the Solar Orbiter from St Andrews University.

ESA is planning the ExoMars mission for launch in 2016 with a rover and capability of drilling up to 2 m into the maritan surface to be launched in 2018. NASA intends to continue their focus on Mars. They are planning MAVEN to explore the upper atmosphere of Mars, launched in late 2013, inSIGHT (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport), launch 2016, and a sucessor to the Curiosity and Phoenix missions.

See NASA's full list of their science missions and the stages they are at. Use the menu at the top to navigate between different areas of NASA's activities.

Observatories and Bodies

Robotic telescopes

You can join Slooh and book observing time on a robotic telescope in the Canaries or at 14 other partner sites with better skies than you're likely to get in Britain.

The Liverpool telescope is the largest robotic telescope in the world (2m), on La Palma, run by the John Moores University of Liverpool. It has been erected in the Canary Islands for public use and is part of the Isaac Newton Group of telescopes (see below).

The 4 Bradford Robotic telescopes on Tenerife allow public access, as do Harvard-Smithsonian's MicroObservatory robotic telescopes (150 mm reflecting telescopes).

Other observatories and bodies

The Aberdeen Astronomical Society has a web-site with an interesting programme of activities. The Society meets monthly during the winter at the Cromwell Tower.

The Royal Observatory Edinburgh is in one of the world's leading observatories, in charge of astronomical facilities in Hawaii and Australia. It also sells galactic and stellar images through posters and photographs. The research side of ROE is now under the umbrella of the United Kingdom Astronomy Technology Centre.

UK Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (UKSEDS) holds events, runs projects and anyone serious about space science should think about joining.

The Australian Astronomical Observatory (AAO) has pictures and information that can be down loaded or viewed online.

The Isaac Newton Group of telescopes (ING) in La Palma is a major international facility managed by the UK astronomy community.

European Association for Astronomy Education is based in the European Southern Observatory's German site and aims to promote astronomy education in Europe.

UK Research Council that now funds Astronomy (STFC) Find out what current research is being funded in the UK and why UK astronomy is among the best in the world.

The Royal Astronomical Society has been active since 1820, publishing leading journals, arranging regular meetings and acting as co-ordinator of academic astronomical research. Nowadays, it also encompasses geophysics.

The European Space Agency (ESA) Europe's equivalent to NASA that has an active program of satellites and space probes and is undertaking an increasing amount in collaboration with NASA. Many lins above lead to ESA web pages.*

The UK Space Agency You didn't know we had one? Space science is worth some 15 billion to the annual UK economy. Look here for possible careers.


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Page assembled by John S. Reid
Last updated Jun 2020