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Wolfram|Alpha for Astronomy

October 21, 2009 —
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Whether you are an astronomy student, an educator, or a hobbyist with an eye to the sky, Wolfram|Alpha is a great resource for exploring astronomy data. A while back we posted an introduction to using Wolfram|Alpha to compute and explore properties and locations for objects and events in our solar system. Since then we’ve added a new set of data we’d like to share: solar system features.

Ever wanted to explore the solar system? If so, you might like to take a look at a new set of data available on Wolfram|Alpha: the complete catalog of over 14,000 officially recognized and named solar system features maintained by the United States Geological Survey (USGS). Each feature includes not only its name, but also what type of feature it is, what astronomical body it’s on, and its surface coordinates. For most named features, Wolfram|Alpha also includes a surface map showing where it is located on its parent body. Let’s go exploring!

Starting close to home, you can examine the Moon:
The Tycho crater on the Moon

But what about features on the far side of the Moon? We have those too:
The Apollo crater on the far side of the Moon

In fact, we have all faces of the Moon, and if you query for a named feature, we can show you where it is. Want to see the whole surface of the Moon?
The whole surface of the Earth's Moon

But we aren’t limited to the Moon. Are you well versed in Latin? Typically, features are either named after people or are given Latin names. We’ve already seen one named after a person and one named after a god, but how about Olympus Mons on Mars:
Olympus Mons on Mars

The base of this mountain on Mars is bigger than the state of Missouri:
The base of Olympus Mons is bigger than the state of Missouri

Or look below the clouds on Venus to see where Alpha Regio is:
Alpha Regio on the planet Venus

Even features on other moons are available:
Abydos Facula on Ganymede

When the Cassini spacecraft arrived at Saturn, it began imaging Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, which is totally cloud covered. With near-infrared filters, Cassini revealed many features never before seen, such as Xanadu:
Xanadu on Saturn's moon Titan

Io, Jupiter’s innermost large moon, is constantly being turned inside out by volcanism. The surface looks like a spoiled pizza, littered with volcanic eruptive centers like Pele:
Pele on Jupiter's moon Io

Even though Mercury has not been entirely mapped, you can explore the parts that astronomers have observed. For example, the plains of Mercury:
The plains of Mercury

Do you have questions on how to use Wolfram|Alpha in your astronomy courses? Or maybe you’re already using Wolfram|Alpha as an astronomy resource. Join us over at the Homework Day website, and submit your homework questions to our team of experts.


This is beautiful. As a little bonus, it would be neat if astronomy queries returned with white (or gray) text on a black background, just like the night sky! 🙂

Posted by Drew October 24, 2009 at 4:44 am

I agree with Drew, would be great to get white text on a black background!!

Posted by Carnaporto August 5, 2010 at 5:33 pm