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Recent Cosmos Answers
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How come planets and moons orbit but stars don't? -Makayla, grade 4
Astronomers believe that because of gravity space dust and gas in a nebula condenses to make stars. As part of the process a disk of material is formed that spins around the forming star. Some parts of the disk clump together to form planets and moons. They continue to orbit the star because of the motion they had when they formed. Sometimes two stars form and orbit each other as their planets orbit them. These stars are called binary stars. So, some stars as well as planets and moons orbit.
In addition, stars are not within our solar system, but many light years away. They are not a part of our solar system, but are a part of a larger structure called a galaxy. These stars, as well as our sun, orbit the center of the galaxy. So, although the stars do not orbit our sun, they do orbit within the galaxy. Their great distance from us, as well as the fact that we are orbiting in the same sense they are, makes this motion undetectable. See also: Ask NASA about stars.
Just how many constellations are there? -Ryun, grade 4
Astronomers have divided the sky into 88 constellations. Instead of telling stories they are used to find areas of the sky like drawings of the states are used on a map of the USA. Just like you can find Spokane by knowing it is in Washington you can find objects like the Ring nebula in the constellation Lyra. Another way to look at it is like those 3 dimensional puzzles you see of buildings and castles. Imagine the constellations being puzzle pieces in a giant spherical puzzle with you inside. From 40 degrees latitude we can see 65 of the 88 constellations. Why not take a Constellations Tour?
How do you know when you can see if they (Constellations) are in the summer or winter?
-Alexa, grade 4
Constellations are drawn on star maps. These maps can be flat like road maps, printed on a clear globe or on a wheel that turns within a calendar (known as a planisphere). By turning the wheel to the correct date and time, you can see what constellations will be out. Check Sky and Telescope magazine and Astronomy magazine for current monthly maps showing what is up that month.