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Computational Astronomy: Exploring the Cosmos with Wolfram

Computational Astronomy: Exploring the Cosmos with Wolfram

This year’s Global Astronomy Month is off to an exciting start for North America in anticipation of the total solar eclipse on April 8. In light of this momentous event, the following is a list of resources that bring Wolfram Language and astronomy together—including expert video guides, projects and books—for computational astronomers at every level.

Level 1—Learn about Computational Astronomy

Wolfram Precision Eclipse Computation

Watch astronomical phenomena in action on April 8. This total solar eclipse will be the last one visible from North America until 2044. You can find out exactly when the eclipse will be visible to you using the Wolfram Precision Eclipse Computation website. Simply plug in your location and get your ISO-compliant eclipse glasses ready.

Science & Technology Q&A for Kids & Others

If you’ve ever wondered why black holes don’t collapse in on themselves or about the gravitational limits of a planet, we suggest participating in Stephen Wolfram’s livestreams for the chance to learn about varying topics in the world of science and technology and for a behind-the-scenes look into his life and work. His weekly Science & Technology Q&A for Kids & Others is an open, live Q&A session dedicated to answering your questions.

While the streams are not bound to a single topic, part 140 looks into dark matter, light and other space-related topics. Part 107 features an in-depth conversation about black holes and light, and part 109 looks at questions about gravity and pressure in the vacuum of space. These livestreams will surely intrigue anyone looking to learn more about space!

Do you have more space or other questions for Stephen? You can submit a question to be answered in a future Science & Technology Q&A for Kids & Others or History of Science & Technology Q&A livestream.

Wolfram Demonstrations Project

The Wolfram Demonstrations Project offers more than 12 thousand interactive Wolfram Language Demonstrations in varying fields, including over two hundred astronomy Demonstrations. Manipulate and learn from unique Demonstrations like the following.

View of Our Solar System
By: Becky Johnsen

Johnsen’s Demonstration explores the relative distances between the Sun, planets and the dwarf planet Pluto. All bodies are shown larger than scale size but in correct relative proportion except for the Sun and Pluto (for aesthetic reasons).


How Old Would You Be on Another Planet (or Pluto)?
By: Chris Boucher

The planets in our solar system (and Pluto) rotate on their axes at different rates and take differing amounts of time to complete an orbit of the Sun. Boucher’s Demonstration allows you to calculate how old you would be on different planets (and Pluto).


Make Your Own Solar System
By: Stephen Wolfram

Wolfram’s Demonstration allows you to create your own 3D solar system by adjusting the size of a central star and the sizes and distances of four planets.


Wolfram|Alpha Example Queries

In addition to being an ever-expanding searchable database with knowledge spanning the computation of physics mechanics to providing detailed timelines for historical events, Wolfram|Alpha also gives topical example queries to get your research started in the right direction. Check out the collection of space and astronomy examples to start researching astronomical events and learn to calculate astrophysics problems.

Level 2—Experimenting with Computational Astronomy

If you’re already an astronomy whiz and are ready to move on to more advanced Wolfram Language computations, you will find these projects offer the inspiration you need to move forward with your exploration.

Wolfram Demonstrations Project

More advanced Demonstrations are available for those looking to observe and interact with different astronomical concepts.

Phases of Planets
By: Jeff Bryant

Like the Moon, planets can also have phases. Bryant’s Demonstration offers a view of Mercury, Venus and Earth when viewed from any of these three planets. Planets in inferior orbits undergo complete phase changes like the Moon when viewed from a planet with a superior orbit. Planets in superior orbits only go though minor changes in phase when viewed from a planet with an inferior orbit.


Solar and Lunar Eclipses
By: Jeff Bryant

A solar eclipse occurs when the Moon’s shadow moves across the face of the Earth. Similarly, a lunar eclipse occurs when the Earth’s shadow moves over the Moon. Bryant’s Demonstration allows you to see a model of solar and lunar eclipses by adjusting the position and distance of the Moon.


Life Cycle of a Star
By: Allison Jung

Stars evolve from birth to death much as animals or plants do. New stars form in stellar nebulae, made of clouds of plasma, hydrogen and helium. The lifetime of a star varies according to its mass; more massive stars have shorter lifespans than average-sized stars. The dividing line between the two types is around eight times the mass of the Sun. Jung’s Demonstration shows the life cycles of stars by adjusting an average and massive star’s evolutions.


Astronomy Functions in Wolfram Language

Wolfram Language 13.2 introduced several new astronomy-focused functions, including AstroPosition and AstroGraphics, for getting started as a computational astronomer. Version 14 overhauled the function SolarEclipse, which performs detailed local computations for solar eclipses—just in time for calculating the 2024 North American solar eclipse. The 14.0 feature pages give you a chance to experiment with all of the functions released in this version. You can also use the Astronomical Computation & Data guide for a full list of astronomical functions and available data.

For a deeper dive into the astro features, be sure to check out our streams and video walkthroughs with Wolfram’s developers. Join José Martín-García on “More in Astronomy: Eclipses” and Tom Sherlock on “Astrophotography Image Processing Workflows.”

For an even closer look at all the astro features, take a look at our Live with the R&D Team livestream on astro computation, where researchers José Martín-García and Jeff Bryant discuss reference frames, time systems and different application examples like visualizing solar eclipses or computing the position of Jupiter’s barycenter.

Wolfram Function Repository

For more unique ways to incorporate your astronomy research and Wolfram Language skills, you can visit the Wolfram Function Repository to explore and share your own astronomical functions:

Here are some ready-to-use examples from the Wolfram Language Example Repository to experiment with:

It’s no secret that Wolfram Community is one of the best places to learn about others’ projects and share or find help with your own work. These recent Community posts are a sampling of some of our favorite astronomy projects.

A System for Modeling Space Debris Collision [Wolfram High School Summer Research Program 2023]
By: Shubhan Bhattacharya

The Wolfram High School Summer Research Program is a two-week, high-school program designed to push students in STEM fields through lectures, guided activities and hands-on workshops. Bhattacharya’s final project for the 2023 program featured an evaluation of the Kessler syndrome and tracking satellites to model potential collisions.

A System for Modeling Space Debris Collision

Exploring Solar Imagery
By: Jeff Bryant

Bryant uses his function SolarImage to color and process images of the Sun (originally retrieved from the Helioviewer Project). His results are bright, colorful and dynamic images and videos of the center of our solar system. His post was accompanied by the following post, “Imaging the Sun from SDO Orbital Telescope Extreme Ultraviolet Data” from Vitaliy Kaurov. Be sure to check out Bryant’s other solar-related projects, including “Exploring the Origins of Space Weather.”

Exploring Solar Imagery

Imaging the Sun from SDO Orbital Telescope Extreme Ultraviolet Data
By: Vitaliy Kaurov

Written to follow Bryant’s post on exploring solar imagery, Kaurov explores the history and tools behind the Solar Dynamics Observatory’s quest in capturing images of the Sun.

Imaging the Sun from SDO Orbital Telescope Extreme Ultraviolet Data

Predicting the Eclipse: A Multimillennium Tale of Computation
By: Stephen Wolfram

Predicting the Eclipse: A Multimillennium Tale of Computation

While eclipses were initially perceived as mysterious omens, modern astronomers can predict them to within one second of their appearance. In his book Predicting the Eclipse: A Multimillennium Tale of Computation, Stephen Wolfram discusses the history of studying eclipses, using the April 8 North American eclipse as a case study, and the impact of this work on the development of science and technology, from witnessing the stars to soaring among them.

Level 3—Computational Astronomy Research

For those looking to go even further with advanced astronomy research, the following publications offer in-depth analyses to push your work to the next level.

Ancient Plagiarism? An Analysis of Claudius Ptolemy’s Star Catalog
By: Christopher Wolfram

Wolfram reviews one of history’s oldest star maps and potential star scandals from Claudius Ptolemy. This Alexandrian scientist is the author of one of the most influential scientific works, the Almagest. Wolfram reviews the history of the text as well as the notion of plagiarism from an even earlier astronomer and compares the works of the two.

Ancient Plagiarism? An Analysis of Claudius Ptolemy’s Star Catalog

Testing the Speed of Gravity with Black Hole Ringdown
By: Sergi Sirera Lahoz

Testing the Speed of Gravity with Black Hole Ringdown

Lahoz shares his calculations as he investigates how the speed of gravitational waves can be tested with upcoming black hole ringdown observations. He shares how the different elements of black holes affect calculations and the environment surrounding them.

Possible Spacetime Discretization in Astrophysical Phenomena [Wolfram Science Winter School 2023]
By: Vittoria Tommasini

The annual Wolfram Science Winter School gives students an opportunity to participate in research projects with Stephen Wolfram and other Wolfram employees, in addition to developing their own research projects with a team of Wolfram mentors.

Tommasini featured a unique look into computational astronomy with her independent project that focused on connecting quantum mechanics on larger-scale objects like black holes. She focused on modeling discretized spacetime geometries for Minkowski and Schwarzschild spacetime graphs.

Possible Spacetime Discretization in Astrophysical Phenomena

Effects of Dimensions D ≠ 3 on Galactic Rotational Velocity Curves [Wolfram Science Winter School 2023]
By: John Blakely

In another feature from this year’s Winter School, Blakely worked with the Wolfram Physics Project to evaluate the discrete space dimensional effect on galactic rotational velocity curves by creating a model of the flattened curves for observation.

Effects of Dimensions D ≠ 3 on Galactic Rotational Velocity Curves

Dynamical Gravastars
By: Stephen L. Adler

Adler’s article, published by Physical Review D, uses Wolfram Language to look into the structure and behavior of gravastars with the Tolman–Oppenheimer–Volkoff equation. You can find a description of Adler’s work and his notebooks on Wolfram Community.

Geometric Optics: Theory and Design of Astronomical Optical Systems Using Mathematica, Second Edition
By: Antonio Romano & Roberto Caveliere

Geometric Optics: Theory and Design of Astronomical Optical Systems Using Mathematica

Geometric Optics: Theory and Design of Astronomical Optical Systems Using Mathematica from Antonio Romano and Roberto Caveliere combines the computational abilities of Wolfram Language with the optical elements of astronomy.

Beyond the Stars

Wolfram has always been committed to pushing boundaries in pursuit of the idea of computational X, or the coming together of technology and the rest of the world. This idea is carried through the world of Wolfram with the help of the Wolfram developers, who work to make each new version as exciting as possible, and the users, who share their own projects and discoveries through Wolfram Community and their own publication sources.

Looking for more great resources to find your computational X? Check out our collection of courses at Wolfram U and varying events and workshops to learn more about Wolfram Language and its different application areas.


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