We've decided to keep Astronomy Stack Exchange in PRIVATE beta for one more week. The Community Manager team reviewed the site so far and, while we love the enthusiasm here, we are deeply concerned that many of the questions and answers are poor or literal copies of material available elsewhere on the internet. We want to make sure this is a site for people "doing" astronomy—whether you're a PhD or into backyard astronomy. We don't want to create a site where folks are simply repeating content they heard elsewhere.

Let me paraphrase something Joel Spolsky (Stack Exchange co-founder) wrote:

There are only 200 easy [astronomy] questions, and they've all been asked 100 times on every other site on the subject. But there are 20,000,000 detailed, difficult, long-tail questions that only an expert can answer, and we'd be doing a REAL service to the Internet by creating a place where you can find answers to the 20,000,000 hard questions, not the 200 easy ones.

The current list of questions comes close to being a complete set of the 200 easy questions with pitifully few of the hard ones. Let me call out one counter-example: How can I collimate a dobsonian telescope with a laser collimator? What I love about this question is that Wipqozn clearly was trying to do some astronomy, ran into a problem, and chose to ask here. Then TildalWave answered the question by pulling out some equipment and taking pictures of the process to show how it's done.

There is an odd disconnect between the questions being asked and the folks we see on the site. Many of you are working on (or actually hold) advanced degrees... or work in academia, engineering, or astronomy. If there's some misunderstanding about why we're all here during the private beta, it's time to hear from you... right now. If you're holding back waiting for the site to get better, now is not the time to wait. Whether it's a question from your studies, or a particularly intriguing problem you might have once encountered in work... the time to ask your question is right now.

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    $\begingroup$ While I'm not too happy about it, the decision to keep us in private beta is a good one. We're simply not ready yet. $\endgroup$
    – user19
    Commented Sep 30, 2013 at 22:41
  • $\begingroup$ Okay then, I have been trying to improve my questions and ansewers style... now how to improve them again $\endgroup$
    – user8
    Commented Sep 30, 2013 at 22:47

3 Answers 3


This is a good decision.

The push for meatier questions was proposed only 3 days ago, more than half way through our beta, and I'm sure it still has not yet been read by everyone.

The push for expert level questions was a good change, one we are glad was made, but change takes time, so giving us more time can only mean good things for the site.

Browsing even the page of most recent questions shows that this has lead to a slight decrease in activity (albeit that correlates with usual drop off for new sites), but it has lead to an increase in the complexity of some of the questions and answers.

Thank you for not being afraid to make the right decision!


I have just taken a look again about the composition of committer for the beta site:

6.0% Expert 13.9% Academic 32.4% Enthusiast 31.9% Beginner 15.7% Curious

which translate to roughly 30 people of Expert and Academic. But typically only 10% to 20% are active, if they have good questions in their mind which should have already asked. Each person can only have little good questions which must be accumulated over time slowly.

So, if you don't allow public to join it, what is your suggestions of getting more good question?

I am just a bit curious about why the Astronomy stalled in private beta and am able to sneak in because of the invitation posted somewhere in area51, though I am not quite fond to involve in it.

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    $\begingroup$ I have snuck in as well, mainly because I liked the previous astronomy site. Although I really don't see how it would be much different from the physics site. More complex astronomy questions eventually gravitate towards physics questions, although they don't have to be answered with reams of math. $\endgroup$
    – Carl
    Commented Oct 7, 2013 at 10:23
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    $\begingroup$ @Carl By definition, Physics.SE already allow all astronomy question, so it should make no different. The questions I see here seems quite appropriate either for physics or space. Except I never see those questions asking about particular star, galaxy in Physics.SE. These individual star has more interested within amatuer/astronomer for some reason $\endgroup$
    – unsym
    Commented Oct 7, 2013 at 19:19

In the words of TildalWave:

here, we should focus on observational science more, not so much on actually interpreting data... how to gather data, where to look for them, with what equipment, who has done what, how do we define / catalogue something, also discussing other astro societies, events, e.t.c.

I think some of our highest voted questions show that we know that we need that focus:

  1. How are black holes found?
  2. What is a parsec and how is it measured?
  3. How do I calculate the inclination of an object with an amateur telescope?
  4. Why is only one side of the Moon visible from Earth?
  5. How could a hobbyist astronomer determine apparent magnitude of a star?
  6. Amateur observing targets for binary star systems?
  7. Could someone explain RA/dec in simple terms?
  8. Why is the Hubble Telescope in space?
  9. I live in an area with a lot of light pollution, how can I view the stars without building an observatory?
  10. How are the compositional components of exoplanet atmospheres differentiated?

The problem isn't that we don't know what we need; it's that we seem not to know how to generate a large enough volume of these types of questions. I suspect that will improve if we promote the site well enough, but that won't likely happen unless we go public.

Again, from TildalWave:

So if Astro is to make it, I guess we need folks that will make it what it will be. And in private beta, that might be impossible to achieve anyway.

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    $\begingroup$ Actually, volume is by no means an issue. Tor passed into public beta with roughly 3/4 of the questions. But those questions were adding real value to the internet's knowledge of Tor. On Astronomy (so far) few questions have added anything to the internet. Looking at the 10 questions you listed does not make me think this site is in anyway different than the dozens (or perhaps hundreds) of astronomy sites that are a Google search away. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 2, 2013 at 22:25
  • $\begingroup$ Perhaps not just look at the top voted questions, but look at the recent questions as well, where I think there has been an improvement, as well as looking at the answers. $\endgroup$
    – user8
    Commented Oct 3, 2013 at 3:41
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    $\begingroup$ @JonEricson I understand where you're coming from. The top voted questions are not exactly tough ones. What I'm arguing is that they're on the topic that we want tough questions in. The tough questions will come when we have more exposure to the audience we want. $\endgroup$
    – called2voyage Mod
    Commented Oct 3, 2013 at 12:50
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    $\begingroup$ Admittedly, I find the now silence about the future of this site somewhat unsettling. $\endgroup$
    – user8
    Commented Oct 6, 2013 at 2:58

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