Astro Trivia

Here is a collection of astro trivia. There's no rhyme or reason to it. It's just stuff that has caught my eye. If you have come across any trivia you think could be added to this page then please email me by clicking on the image below.

Tycho's nose job

The great Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe was one of the more colourful characters in the history of astronomy. As a student he had part of his nose cut off in a duel. He made a replacement out of gold, silver and wax.

No sun tan lotion required

Pluto is situated so far out in the depths of the solar system that if you were to stand on its surface the sun would just look like a bright star.

Size matters

When Sir Isaac Newton wrote in a letter to Robert Hooke 'If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants' his note of humility may have been laced with a dose of sarcasm. Newton despised Hooke who had been critical of his work and it seems likely that Sir Isaac was having a swipe at Hooke's diminutive stature.

Big Bang (You're having a laugh)

Most people are familiar with the term 'Big Bang' theory. However when astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle first coined the phrase 'Big Bang' he did so in order to mock the theory. Hoyle was a firm believer in the alternative steady state theory which gives the universe no start or end. However the name stuck and the term Big Bang is now widely used although the irony has been lost.


Saturn has the smallest density of all the planets in the solar system. It is so light it could float on water.

and the answer is....

Scientists in Cambridge spent 3 years calculating one of the fundamental keys to the universe - The Hubble Constant that determines the age of the universe. This process mirrored a passage in the cult science fiction novel and radio series 'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy' in which an alien race programs a computer called Deep Thought to provide the ultimate answer to understanding life and the universe.
In the novel, seven and a half million years later Deep Thought comes back with the result, 42.
In an extraordinary coincidence when the Cambridge scientists finally calculated the Hubble Constant they found the answer was also 42. To be fair the scientists took it on the chin, as Dr Keith Grange explained, 'It caused quite a few laughs when we arrived at the figure 42, because we're all great fans of The Hitchhiker's Guide'
Just to complete the cycle, the author Douglas Adams was born in ...... Cambridge.

What is it with authors?

Here is a section from Gulliver's Travels written by Jonathan Swift in 1726:
They [the Laputians] have likewise discovered two lesser stars, or satellites, which revolve about Mars, whereof the innermost is distant from the center of the primary planet exactly three of its diameters, and the outermost five; the former revolves in the space of ten hours, and the latter in twenty-one and a half; so that the squares of their periodical times are very near the same proportion with the cubes of their distance from the center of Mars, which evidently shows them to be governed by the same law of gravitation that influences the other heavenly bodies.

Jonathan Swift described the two moons of Mars even though they were not discovered until over 150 years later. For the record he described Phobos' orbital period as 10 hours (very close to the real figure of 7.6) and Deimos' as 21.5 (close to the real 30.2).

Big Bang or Bird Poo

In 1965 Robert Dicke of Princetown University was investigating the theory of Big Bang and was pursuing the idea that a residue of the big bang would take the form of low level background radiation that should still be detectable today.

Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson standing in front of the Bell Laboratories radio telescope Meanwhile, not a million miles away in New Jersey two scientists, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson, were trying to get to the bottom of a problem they were having with a radio telescope. They were trying to use the giant dish to listen to radio waves coming from deep space. Unfortunately they kept picking up an annoying buzz that was hampering their research. They had tried replacing different parts of the operating equipment but couldn't cure the problem.

They decided the culprits were probably a couple of nesting pigeons who had been leaving their own 'messages' on the telescope's dish. So Penzias and Wilson climbed up on to the dish with a couple of brooms and scrubbed the offending poo off the surface. Still no luck.
In desperation they phoned Princetown University for advice and got through to Robert Dicke. As soon as they described the problem Dicke realized that the background buzz was exactly what he had been looking for. It wasn't caused by bird poo, it was the distant echo of a very large bang that occurred at the dawn of time.

Radio waves from LGMs

When pulsars were first discovered in 1967 their radio waves were so regular that astronomers weren't quite sure whether they were picking up some sort of signal from intelligent life elsewhere in the galaxy. That is why pulsars were dubbed LGMs. LGM stands for Little Green Men.

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