How can I find out what scientists already know about a particular astronomy topic or object?

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Don't forget to try and answer the "Questions to think about ..." at the bottom of this page!


Searching the literature is an essential part of doing research. Nearly all the astronomical literature is online at ADS (http://adsabs.harvard.edu/). From anywhere, you can search via the ADS form, and read abstracts and old papers. However, because the journals want you to pay for access to recent articles, you will only be able to read recent papers when you're connecting from a university internet domain such as caltech.edu (although your local public library might also have access).

SIMBAD (http://simbad.u-strasbg.fr/simbad/sim-fid) is a slightly different database, with different strengths, weaknesses, and tools than ADS. Try searching there too; you will probably find different information than at ADS. Note that there are links between the two databases, such that you can move between them and take advantage of both resources. (Note too that SIMBAD is based in France, and thus might be down for maintenance during their evening hours -- which is our middle of the day.)

ADS will cough up abstracts to proposals, abstracts from conferences without conference proceedings, full articles from conference proceedings, and refereed journal articles. NB: that list is from least useful to most useful.

SIMBAD tabulates data, but is notoriously unreliable at doing so. Don't believe any Vmags, types, or classifications of objects you find as part of their 'basic data.' SIMBAD provides links back to articles (and the data tables therein), though, which is far more useful. In SIMBAD, you can search by position, so you can find out, e.g., what other named objects are near to a region you care about. There may be other useful papers calling objects near your targeted region by those other names, rather than the name you're using.

Screencapture tutorial on literature searching, with particular emphasis on SIMBAD-based searching, designed for the 2012 C-WAYS team, but may be of some general benefit. Nearly 10 minutes long, sorry.

Questions to think about and things to try with literature searching

Try these examples below to be sure you understand how to use this form. All of these are relevant to the IC 2118 project, but similar searches can be done for any topic. Come up with your own answers and then you can discuss literature searching with others on this wiki.

  • Find all papers by Luisa Rebull, or another astronomer friend. Which are refereed, and which are conference proceedings?
  • Find all papers involving a target of choice, say, IC 2118. What is the most recent one?
  • Find all the previously known objects in a region of your choice, say IC 2118 (probably easiest to do in SIMBAD). Experiment with searching by name and searching by position. Do you get different results for your object of choice?
  • Find the paper with the following reference: Rebull et al., 2008, ApJ, 681, 1484
  • How many papers have Luisa Rebull, Varoujan Gorjian, or any other mentor scientist you know published? How many refereed articles has he or she published?

I'm ready to go on to the "Advanced" Literature Searching section

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