Portal:Radiation astronomy

Radiation astronomy
This image is a composite of several types of radiation astronomy: radio, infrared, visual, ultraviolet, soft and hard X-ray. Credit: NASA.

Radiation astronomy is astronomy applied to the various extraterrestrial sources of radiation, especially at night. It is also conducted above the Earth's atmosphere and at locations away from the Earth, by satellites and space probes, as a part of explorational (or exploratory) radiation astronomy.

Seeing the Sun and feeling the warmth of its rays is probably a student's first encounter with an astronomical radiation source. This will happen from a very early age, but a first understanding of the concepts of radiation may occur at a secondary educational level.

Radiation is all around us on top of the Earth's crust, regolith, and soil, where we live. The study of radiation, including radiation astronomy, usually intensifies at the university undergraduate level.

And, generally, radiation becomes hazardous, when a student embarks on graduate study.

Cautionary speculation may be introduced unexpectedly to stimulate the imagination and open a small crack in a few doors that may appear closed at present. As such, this learning resource incorporates some state-of-the-art results from the scholarly literature.

The laboratories of radiation astronomy are limited to the radiation observatories themselves and the computers and other instruments (sometimes off site) used to analyze the results.

Selected radiation astronomy
An orange sunset in the Mahim Bay is shown around the Haji Ali Dargah in India. Credit: Humayunn Peerzaada.

Orange astronomy is astronomy applied to the various extraterrestrial orange sources of radiation, especially at night. It is also conducted above the Earth's atmosphere and at locations away from the Earth as a part of explorational (or exploratory) orange astronomy.

Seeing an orange Sun due to atmospheric effects and feeling the warmth of its rays is probably a student's first encounter with an apparent astronomical orange radiation source.

There are orange objects and emission lines in the orange portion of the visible spectrum.

Selected lecture

Radiation astronomy sources

Volcanic bombs are thrown into the sky and travel some distance before returning to the ground. This bomb is in the Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve, Idaho, USA. Credit: National Park Service.

In source astronomy, the question is "Where did it come from?"

Source astronomy has its origins in the actions of intelligent life on Earth when they noticed things or entities falling from above and became aware of the sky. Sometimes what they noticed is an acorn or walnut being dropped on them or thrown at them by a squirrel in a tree. Other events coupled with keen intellect allowed these life forms to deduce that some entities falling from the sky are coming down from locations higher than the tops of local trees.

Def. a source or apparent source detected or “created at or near the time of the [ event or] events”[1] is called a primary source.

Direct observation and tracking of the origination and trajectories of falling entities such as volcanic bombs presented early intelligent life with vital albeit sometimes dangerous opportunities to compose the science that led to source astronomy.


  1. primary source. San Francisco, California: Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. February 16, 2012. http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/primary_source. Retrieved 2012-07-14. 
Selected theory

Stellar surface fusion

RHESSI observes high-energy phenomena from a solar flare. Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio.

Stellar surface fusion occurs above a star's photosphere to a limited extent as found in studies of near coronal cloud activity.

Surface fusion is produced by reactions during or preceding a stellar flare and at much lower levels elsewhere above the photosphere of a star.

"Nuclear interactions of ions accelerated at the surface of flaring stars can produce fresh isotopes in stellar atmospheres."[1]

"This energy [1032 to 1033 ergs] appears in the form of electromagnetic radiation over the entire spectrum from γ-rays to radio burst, in fast electrons and nuclei up to relativistic energies, in the creation of a hot coronal cloud, and in large-scale mass motions including the ejections of material from the Sun."[2]

"The new reaction 208Pb(59Co,n)266Mt was studied using the Berkeley Gas-filled Separator [BGS] at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory [LBNL] 88-Inch Cyclotron."[3]

266Mt has been produced using the 209Bi(58Fe,n)266Mt reaction.[3]

"Reactions with various medium-mass projectiles on nearly spherical, shell-stabilized 208Pb or 209Bi targets have been used in the investigations of transactinide (TAN) elements and their decay properties for many years. These so-called “cold fusion” reactions produce weakly excited (10-15 MeV) [1] compound nuclei (CNs) at bombarding energies at or near the Coulomb barrier that de-excite by the emission of one to two neutrons."[3]

"The laboratory-frame, center-of-target energy used was 291.5 MeV, corresponding to a CN excitation energy of 14.9 MeV."[3]

"At the start of the experiment the BGS magnet settings were chosen to guide products with a magnetic rigidity of 2.143 T·m to the center of the [focal plane detector] FPD. After the first event of 266Mt was detected in strip 45 (near one edge of the FPD), the magnetic field strength was decreased to 2.098 T·m in an effort to shift the distribution of products toward the center of the detector."[3]

"258Db [has been produced] via the 209Bi(50Ti,n) and 208Pb(51V,n) reactions [15], and 262Bh via the 209Bi(54Cr,n) and 208Pb(55Mn,n) reactions [13, 16]."[3]

"Hofmann et al. at Gesellschaft für Schwerionenforschung (GSI) in Darmstadt, Germany, and Morita et al., at the Institute of Physical and Chemical Research (RIKEN) in Saitama, Japan, have studied the 209Bi(64Ni,n)272Rg reaction [7, 17, 18]. The complementary 208Pb(65Cu,n)272Rg reaction was studied by Folden et al. at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) [19]."[3]

"Based on the observation of the long-lived isotopes of roentgenium, 261Rg and 265Rg (Z = 111, t1/2 ≥ 108 y) in natural Au, an experiment was performed to enrich Rg in 99.999% Au. 16 mg of Au were heated in vacuum for two weeks at a temperature of 1127°C (63°C above the melting point of Au). The content of 197Au and 261Rg in the residue was studied with high resolution inductively coupled plasma-sector field mass spectrometry (ICP-SFMS). The residue of Au was 3 × 10−6 of its original quantity. The recovery of Rg was a few percent. The abundance of Rg compared to Au in the enriched solution was about 2 × 10−6, which is a three to four orders of magnitude enrichment."[4]


  1. Vincent Tatischeff, J.-P. Thibaud, I. Ribas (January 2008). "Nucleosynthesis in stellar flares". eprint arXiv:0801.1777. http://arxiv.org/pdf/0801.1777. Retrieved 2012-11-09. 
  2. R. P. Lin and H. S. Hudson (September-October 1976). "Non-thermal processes in large solar flares". Solar Physics 50 (10): 153-78. doi:10.1007/BF00206199. http://adsabs.harvard.edu/full/1976SoPh...50..153L. Retrieved 2013-07-07. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 S. L. Nelson, K. E. Gregorich, I. Dragojević, J. Dvořák, P. A. Ellison, M. A. Garcia, J. M. Gates, L. Stavsetra, M. N. Ali, and H. Nitsche (February 25, 2009). "Comparison of complementary reactions in the production of Mt". Physical Review C 79 (2): e027605. doi:10.1103/PhysRevC.79.027605. http://prc.aps.org/abstract/PRC/v79/i2/e027605. Retrieved 2014-04-07. 
  4. A. Marinov, A. Pape, D. Kolb, L. Halicz, I. Segal, N. Tepliakov and R. Brandt (2011). "Enrichment of the Superheavy Element Roentgenium (Rg) in Natural Au". International Journal of Modern Physics E 20 (11): 2391-2401. doi:10.1142/S0218301311020393. http://www.phys.huji.ac.il/~marinov/publications/Rg_261_arXiv_77.pdf. Retrieved 2014-04-08. 
Selected topic


This is Saturn imaged with the Stockholm Infrared Camera (SIRCA) in the H2O band. Credit: M. Gålfalk, G. Olofsson and H.-G. Florén, Nordic Optical Telescope.

At the right is Saturn imaged by the Stockholm Infrared Camera (SIRCA) in the H2O infrared band to show the presence of water vapor. The image is cut off near the top due to the presence of Saturn's rings.

The Sun's emission in the lowest UV bands, the UVA, UVB, and UVC bands, are of interest, as these are the UV bands commonly encountered from artificial sources on Earth. The shorter bands of UVC, as well as even more energetic radiation as produced by the Sun, generate the ozone in the ozone layer when single oxygen atoms produced by UV photolysis of dioxygen react with more dioxygen. The ozone layer is especially important in blocking UVB and part of UVC, since the shortest wavelengths of UVC (and those even shorter) are blocked by ordinary air.

Selected X-ray astronomy article
X-ray photo by Chandra X-ray Observatory is of the Bullet Cluster. Exposure time was 140 hours. The scale is shown in megaparsecs. Redshift (z) = 0.3, meaning its light has wavelengths stretched by a factor of 1.3. Credit: .

An astrophysical X-ray source is an astronomical object with physical properties which result in the emission of X-rays.

There are a number of types of astrophysical objects which emit X-rays, from galaxy clusters, through black holes in active galactic nuclei (AGN) to galactic objects such as supernova remnants, stars, and binary stars containing a white dwarf (cataclysmic variable stars and super soft X-ray sources), neutron star or black hole (X-ray binaries). Some solar system bodies emit X-rays, the most notable being the Moon, although most of the X-ray brightness of the Moon arises from reflected solar X-rays.

Clusters of galaxies are formed by the merger of smaller units of matter, such as galaxy groups or individual galaxies. The infalling material (which contains galaxies, gas and dark matter) gains kinetic energy as it falls into the cluster's gravitational potential well. The infalling gas collides with gas already in the cluster and is shock heated to between 107 and 108 K depending on the size of the cluster. This very hot gas emits X-rays by thermal bremsstrahlung emission, and spectral line emission from metals (in astronomy, 'metals' often means all elements except hydrogen and helium). The galaxies and dark matter are collisionless and quickly become virialised, orbiting in the cluster potential well.

Selected image
Chandra image of Cygnus X-1.jpg

Chandra X-ray Observatory imaged Cygnus X-1. Credit: Chandra: NASA/CXC.

Selected lesson

First X-ray source in Apus

The graph shows the spatial distribution of ROSAT all-sky survey X-ray sources in the Chamaeleon cloud complex. Credit: J.M. Alcalá, J. Krautter, J.H.M.M. Schmitt, E. Covino, R. Wichmann and R. Mundt.

The first X-ray source in Apus discovered by our X-ray observatory satellites or rockets is unknown.

Above is a sky plot of the X-ray sources detected by the ROSAT all-sky survey in the Chamaeleon star-forming cloud complex. X-ray sources (Xs in the diagram) along the 14:00 h longitude are in the constellation Apus.

This is a lesson in map reading, coordinate matching, and researching. It is also a research project in the history of X-ray astronomy looking for the first astronomical X-ray source discovered in the constellation of Apus.

Nearly all the background you need to participate and learn by doing you've probably already been introduced to at a secondary educational level.

Some of the material and information you'll be introduced to is at the college or university level, and as you progress in finding X-ray sources, you'll run into concepts and experimental tests that are actual research.

To succeed in finding an X-ray source in Apus is the first step. Next, you'll need to determine the time stamp of its discovery and compare it with any that have already been found. Over the history of X-ray astronomy a number of sources have been found, many as point sources in the night sky. These points are located on the celestial sphere using coordinate systems. Familiarity with these coordinate systems is not a prerequisite. Here the challenge is geometrical, astrophysical, and historical.

Selected quiz

Color astronomy quiz

Gases above Io's surface produced a ghostly glow that could be seen at visible wavelengths (red, green, and violet). Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona.

Color astronomy is a lecture as part of the radiation astronomy department course development of principles of radiation astronomy.

You are free to take this quiz based on color astronomy at any time.

To improve your scores, read and study the lecture, the links contained within, and listed under See also, External links and the {{radiation astronomy resources}} and {{principles of radiation astronomy}} templates. This should give you adequate background to get 100 %.

As a "learning by doing" resource, this quiz helps you to assess your knowledge and understanding of the information, and it is a quiz you may take over and over as a learning resource to improve your knowledge, understanding, test-taking skills, and your score.

This quiz may need up to an hour to take and is equivalent to an hourly.

Suggestion: Have the lecture available in a separate window.

Enjoy learning by doing!

Selected laboratory

Cosmogony laboratory

This is an image of Chaos magnum from a book. Credit: Sailko.

This laboratory is an activity for you to create a universe. While it is part of the astronomy course principles of radiation astronomy, it is also independent.

Some suggested primordial entities to consider are electromagnetic radiation, neutrinos, mass, time, Euclidean space, Non-Euclidean space, dark matter, dark energy, purple phantoms, and spacetime.

More importantly, there are your primordial entities.

And, yes, you can create a universe from a peanut butter and jelly sandwich if you wish to.

You may choose to define your primordial entities or not.

Usually, research follows someone else's ideas of how to do something. But, in this laboratory you can create these too.

This is an astronomy cosmogony laboratory, but you may create what an astronomy, a cosmogony, or a laboratory is.

Yes, this laboratory is structured. And, you are providing it. Or, not, an unstructured universe is okay too.

I will provide an example of a cosmogony. The rest is up to you.

Questions, if any, are best placed on the discussion page. Please put your laboratory results, you'd like evaluated, on the laboratory's discussion page.

Selected problems

Furlongs per fortnight

It's about the chains. Credit: Stilfehler.{{free media}}

Furlongs per fortnight is a problem set with a contained quiz that focuses on the fundamentals of observational and deductive astronomy. In the activity Energy phantoms you learned about the value of distance, or displacement, and motion, speed, velocity, and acceleration. Here, you can practice and test yourself on converting from units that may or have occurred in the literature to units popular today.

Notation: let the symbol indicate the Earth's radius.

Notation: let the symbol indicate the radius of Jupiter.

Notation: let the symbol indicate the solar radius.

Both physics and astronomy use units and dimensions to describe observations.

Units of Physics and Astronomy
Dimension Astronomy Symbol Physics Symbol Conversion
time 1 day d 1 second s 1 d = 86,400 s[1]
time 1 "Julian year"[2] J 1 second s 1 J = 31,557,600 s
distance 1 astronomical unit AU 1 meter m 1 AU = 149,597,870.691 km[1]
angular distance 1 parsec pc 1 meter m 1 pc ~ 30.857 x 1012 km[1]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 P. K. Seidelmann (1976). Measuring the Universe The IAU and astronomical units. International Astronomical Union. http://www.iau.org/public/measuring/. Retrieved 2011-11-27. 
  2. International Astronomical Union "SI units" accessed February 18, 2010. (See Table 5 and section 5.15.) Reprinted from George A. Wilkins & IAU Commission 5, "The IAU Style Manual (1989)" (PDF file) in IAU Transactions Vol. XXB
Selected X-ray astronomy pictures
Central regions Perseus galaxy cluster.jpg

Chandra observations of the central regions of the Perseus galaxy cluster. Image is 284 arcsec across. RA 03h 19m 47.60s Dec +41° 30' 37.00" in Perseus. Observation dates: 13 pointings between August 8, 2002 and October 20, 2004. Color code: Energy (Red 0.3-1.2 keV, Green 1.2-2 keV, Blue 2-7 keV). Instrument: ACIS. Credit: NASA/CXC/IoA/A.Fabian et al.

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