Can You Get a Gold Star on this Astronomy Quiz?

By: John Miller

6 Min Quiz

Image: YouTube

About This Quiz

Our night sky is pricked with the light from millions of incredibly bright stars -- and yet, those twinkling beams are just a tiny insight into the brilliance and immensity of our universe. How much do you know about simple astronomy facts?

Astronomy is the study of ______.

Astronomy is the study of the universe and the stuff in it. Astronomers use tools and logic to observe all sorts of non-Earth bodies and phenomena.

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True or false: The Sun revolves around the Earth.

Please tell me you got this one correct. All of the planets in our solar system revolve around the Sun, including the Earth. The ancient Greeks were the first to begin dispelling the myth that the Earth was the center of the universe.

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Who was the first person to attempt to patent a rudimentary telescope?

In the early 17th century, Johann Lippershey (a German-Dutch spectacle maker) filed patent paperwork for a basic telescope. He may (or may not) have been the first person to build a telescope, but either way, his ideas helped advance a fundamental tool of astronomy.

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What is the Milky Way?

The Milky Way is our home galaxy, which contains perhaps 100 billion stars. On a dark night, you can see the "milky" streak of some of these stars stretching across the sky.

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What sort of contraption is the device named "Hubble"?

The Hubble Space Telescope, which was blasted into orbit in 1990, is still one of NASA's crowning achievements. Its instruments have helped researchers make many amazing discoveries about our universe in the decades since it was activated.

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Why do the Sun and the Moon appear to be the same size?

The Sun is much, much larger than the Moon. But it is also much farther from Earth, so from our perspective, the two appear to be about the same size. Pro tip: If you decide to test this theory, please don't stare at the Sun unless you want your eyes to melt and ooze out of your skull holes.

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True or false: On Earth, we always see the same side of the Moon.

The Moon's rotation is exactly the same as its orbital period around Earth. So it's true -- we see only one side of the Moon from our perspective.

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The Sun is much bigger than the Earth. How many Earths would we need to approximate the size of the Sun?

The Sun is an enormous star that's much, much bigger than Earth. We'd need more than 1 million Earths to even approach the size of the Sun.

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What's a "blue Moon"?

A blue Moon is when there are two full moons in a month. It happens once roughly every three years. It occurs because there are more days in calendar month than there are in a moon cycle (29.5 days).

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The Moon is a _____.

The Moon isn't a planet. It's a satellite of Earth. The Moon is a fundamental part of our lives, affecting ocean tides, animal activity, human biology and, of course, werewolves.

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What's the name of the boundary between Earth's atmosphere and outer space?

The Karman Line is the boundary between Earth's atmosphere and the cold dead vacuum of outer space. It's about 62 miles (330,000 feet) above sea level.

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What causes the dark areas visible on the surface of the Moon?

The Moon has distinct dark areas in shapes that could be interpreted as a man's face. It is a man -- a big scary man who watches you sleep at night. Or basalt, a dense, dark rock that fills many of the Moon's craters -- you can decide which statement is appropriate for your belief system.

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True or false: Space is completely silent.

Sound waves need some sort of medium -- be it water, air, or something else -- to travel. Because space is a vacuum, there's no way for sound to move through the expanses of the universe. So no one really can hear you scream.

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About how many galaxies are there in the observable universe?

Until late 2016, scientists estimated that there were about 200 billion galaxies in the observable universe. Thanks to new research based on images from the Hubble telescope, researchers say they were off by, well, a lot. Now, they think there are at least 2 trillion galaxies out there waiting to be explored. Fire up the Enterprise, we've got work to do!

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Which can last longer -- solar or lunar eclipses?

Compared to the Moon, the Sun races across Earth's sky. Solar eclipses max out at about 8 minutes. Lunar eclipses, however, can last more than an hour and a half.

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True or false: The hottest planet in the solar system is the planet that's closest to the Sun.

False, Mercury is indeed blasted (on one side, at least) by the Sun. But Venus, with its thick, heat-trapping clouds, is actually the hottest planet, with temperatures exceeding 500 degrees Celsius.

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Compared to the Earth, what is the diameter of the Moon?

The Moon is smaller than Earth, but it is by no means miniscule. Its diameter is about 25% of Earth's. Translated: if the Moon ever crashes into Earth, your vacation plans for the Bahamas are canceled. Permanently.

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When Neil Armstrong first walked on the moon, he said, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." Are his footprints still on the moon?

The Moon has no atmosphere, and thus, no wind. It's entirely possible that the footsteps taken by Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin are still there, and will be there forever, or until aliens land and rudely sweep them out of the way.

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Experienced astronomers can spot nebulae in space. What are nebulae?

Nebulae are clouds of interstellar dust and gas, and they mark areas where stars have died (or are being created). They take on beautiful and unique shapes -- with a powerful telescope, they are breathtaking to behold.

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True or false: The Moon looks bigger when it is near the horizon.

It's true, the Moon really does look larger when it's close to the horizon. But it's not some weird atmospheric disturbance that causes this effect -- it's a mild illusion caused by the relative contrast in the size of objects (trees, buildings) on the ground compared with Moon's immensity.

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How long does it take light from the Sun to reach Earth?

The Sun is about 93 million miles from Earth and the speed of light is about 186,000 MPH. The light you see from the Sun is always about 8 minutes old. The light from distant stars? Millions of years old, meaning those twinkles in the sky are a time machine of sorts.

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What are "shooting stars"?

Shooting stars look spectacular but in most cases, they are bits of dust zipping through Earth's atmosphere. Friction with atmospheric gases causes the beautiful light shows we witness.

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True or false: Astronomers can see black holes only because of the light that seeps out of these enormous space regions.

Black holes have such strong gravitational pulls that not even light can escape them. But a type of radiation, called Hawking radiation, provides evidence of their existence.

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On an average night, how many stars are visible to the naked human eye?

Gaze into the heavens on dark night and the number of stars seems incalculable. The reality is less impressive. You can see several thousand stars from your perspective and that's about it. Don't believe me? Go ahead and start counting and get back to me on that.

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True or false: The Moon is the only extraterrestrial body that humans have ever physically visited.

False, the American Moon landings were a conspiracy concocted the U.S. government. We're kidding, of course -- yes, the Moon is (so far) the only celestial body that humans have touched.

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The word "astronaut" comes from two Greek words that mean what?

"Astronaut" comes from two Greek words: "astro" (space) and "nautes" (sailor). Astronauts are the sailors of the stars, only less drunk than most sailors of yore.

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Of all of the matter in the universe, how much can humans detect?

We humans still can only detect about 5% of the matter in the universe. The rest is invisible matter (dark matter) and weird energy (dark energy) that even Stephen Hawking can't explain in a one-sentence quiz description.

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True or false: Saturn is the only planet in our solar system with rings.

Saturn's rings are the most famous in the solar system. However, both Uranus and Neptune also have rings … they just aren't as visible.

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The "Galactic Center" is part of which body of the sky?

The Galactic Center is what's called the rotational center of the Milky Way galaxy. It's the brightest and densest part of the Milky Way and is probably the location of a supermassive black hole. The Galactic Center is a favorite subject of night sky photographers because its brightness and colors are evident using modern cameras.

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True or false. Other than the bodies like planets and stars, space is completely empty.

Space is mostly an empty vacuum, but it's not entirely empty. There's matter in every part of space, even if it just a few scattered atoms.

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