Recently, a new user, who I would consider to be a reasonable individual who actually took the time to try to learn the system, complained that the topic scope of the site is too confusing for new users. While closing is just a part of the way SE works, perhaps we are not doing enough to explain the scope of what is on topic here? Ideally, a user who puts in the effort should be able to figure out somewhat quickly what the scope of the site is.

I think we might need to look at beefing up the on/off topic guidelines. Or maybe there is another solution? What are your thoughts?

  • $\begingroup$ Do you mean the scope of Astronomy in general or is there a specific question this is in reference to? The scope of Astronomy as a science is a kind of a mix of Physics, Math, Chemistry and occasionally engineering. So that may be hard to nail down. $\endgroup$ – veda905 Aug 12 '16 at 17:34
  • $\begingroup$ The scope of Astronomy, yes. $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Aug 12 '16 at 18:09
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    $\begingroup$ Than this seems to be somewhat related to this old question, where a general confusion about how this site is to work was expressed... I like this SE site but agree that it is not well defined as is. $\endgroup$ – veda905 Aug 12 '16 at 18:21
  • $\begingroup$ Can you link the user's complaint? That would give us an idea of the problem. $\endgroup$ – Sir Cumference Aug 22 '16 at 15:18
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    $\begingroup$ @SirCumference astronomy.stackexchange.com/questions/16568/… $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Aug 22 '16 at 15:32

My top two favorite resources for the scope of any Stack Exchange site are, in order, the tour and the help center. The former takes maybe a minute or two to read and should clear up some basic questions; the latter is useful for more specific concerns about scope and allows us to be more explicit about certain unique rules and guidelines.

The help center is in decent shape; moderators can edit certain pages, and, in general, this can/should be done early on, and revised later. The Astronomy What topics can I ask about here? page (moderator-editable) is one of the better ones I've seen, and I think it outlines the scope nicely. The Astronomy What types of questions should I avoid asking? page is substantially vaguer, but it's not moderator-editable and is the same for each site; at any rate, I think it's intended to be less important than the other page.

The tour on Astronomy could, I think, be better. It's the first place I visit when joining any Stack Exchange site, because it's concise. However, it's currently using the default text in most areas, I believe, which isn't good. Some parts can be edited, including the sections under the headings

  • Welcome to Astronomy Stack Exchange
  • Ask questions, get answers, no distractions
  • Get answers to practical, detailed questions

The second one has been changed from the default to use a modified version of What is the name of our Solar System?; whether another question should be chosen is maybe something we should think about (criteria are given here). The third one is what I think needs to be changed; a good example is the version on Physics Stack Exchange. It has

  • Examples of things to ask and not ask about
  • Links to meta questions on topics that need more detail
  • A couple of the default bullet points

I think we need to edit this section, as it's easy to point people to and easy to read; I'd also guess that many more people are willing to look there than in the help center, even if it's just to get the informed badge.

Here's my proposed text (it's just an example; we can change it):

Ask about . . .

  • Experimental and theoretical problems in astronomy, astrophysics, cosmology, and planetary science
  • Astronomical equipment, both professional and amateur
  • The use of space probes, telescopes, and rovers for astronomical purposes
  • Certain resource requests

Don't ask about . . .

Obviously, some of this needs to be a bit clearer, but you get the idea.

Now, we could instead just add in a version of the text from the What topics can I ask about here? page in the help center, as Space Exploration has done, but I feel like that would be too long and bulky - not concise enough for a good tour.

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    $\begingroup$ That's a good idea. Thanks for your suggestions for the Tour as well! $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Aug 22 '16 at 15:30
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    $\begingroup$ One thing that makes me wonder if this still might be somewhat lacking is that both you and I gave the user in question quite a bit of advice on where to look for guidance, and he still felt it was unclear after that: meta.astronomy.stackexchange.com/questions/356/… $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Aug 22 '16 at 15:37
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    $\begingroup$ I especially agree that we should update our example questions. Maybe one of the more upvoted questions would be good. $\endgroup$ – Sir Cumference Aug 22 '16 at 15:40
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    $\begingroup$ @called2voyage Yeah, that did give me pause. The only other option I can think of is to direct them to a canonical community wiki question/answer on meta (which we already have, but it formed the basis for the help center text) or to chat for more specific problems. But again, he had been to chat, too. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Aug 22 '16 at 15:48
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    $\begingroup$ @HDE226868 I updated the Tour. Let me know how it looks. $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Aug 31 '16 at 14:42
  • $\begingroup$ @called2voyage I like it; thanks. I hope it helps a bit. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Aug 31 '16 at 14:53
  • $\begingroup$ @called2voyage I also think it's about time to specifically add to the rules: "No questions about objects in the sky without pictures and sufficiently detailed description." We've been getting way to many questions like that lately. $\endgroup$ – Sir Cumference Sep 1 '16 at 21:29
  • $\begingroup$ @SirCumference How's this? See the new section "What about that thing in the sky?" just below the off-topic section. $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Sep 1 '16 at 21:47
  • $\begingroup$ @called2voyage Looks good! $\endgroup$ – Sir Cumference Sep 1 '16 at 21:58

I think on the topic of spacecraft specifically the answer is yes. The linked question is about an astronomical instrument. It was closed as off topic. This does seem counterintuitive.

The current What topics can I ask about here? page doesn't seem to exclude this. It excludes:

Questions about artificial satellites whose purpose is not directly related to astronomy.

But the question was about the Hubble Space Telescope which is clearly completely devoted to astronomical research.

Maybe some specific clarification on which questions about astronomical instruments are off topic would help.

  • $\begingroup$ I added some extra words, check it out: astronomy.stackexchange.com/help/on-topic $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Sep 6 '16 at 15:13
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    $\begingroup$ "Questions about artificial satellites whose purpose is not directly related to astronomy. You may ask about their orbit, but not their purpose, usage and safety features. Questions about satellites with an astronomical purpose should be focused on astronomical usage and not broader questions such as the construction of the non-optical components." $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Sep 6 '16 at 15:13
  • $\begingroup$ Satisfies me! Seems much clearer in my mind now. Focus on astronomical uses, ask elsewhere for engineering questions about construction/transport of the instrument. $\endgroup$ – user14116 Sep 6 '16 at 15:56
  • $\begingroup$ (with some exceptions for engineering of the sensory functionality specifically, which I think makes sense) $\endgroup$ – user14116 Sep 6 '16 at 15:59

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