EDIT: I would appreciate a moderator reply to this question given this comment by TildalWave♦ on a now deleted post. It seems strange to say "help support the policy" without clarity on what the policy is.


As a newbie here I have been surprised at the number of questions that from my viewpoint lack basic research. Some examples are listed later in this post.

My own research

I investigated the Space Exploration help, which says (as all the other sites I participate in do):

Search, and research

Have you thoroughly searched for an answer before asking your question? Sharing your research helps everyone. Tell us what you found and why it didn’t meet your needs.

In his answer to When (if ever) should a question include general reference links? James Jenkins says

References in questions, imply that some basic research has been conducted. As a rule some research before asking a question, leads to better questions.

My thoughts exactly.


Every site has it's own charter and character.

How the "rules" are interpreted is up to the Space.SE community, especially it's members with 3K rep (and access to close queues) and moderators.

Members with 350 rep can moderate first posts and late answers. In the event that I begin such moderation duties I would like a better understanding of the prevailing views here.


The merits of individual cases may/can/should be debated; taken together they show what I mean.

Concluding remarks

Good, well researched and well-asked questions can require some solid work, but they and their answers give the site it's value.

I seek the community views on the demonstrated research required in Space.SE questions. Is it different to other SE sites? Is it evolving?

  • $\begingroup$ FYI, you only need 500 rep to cast close/re-open votes on all questions on beta sites. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Mar 18 '15 at 0:57
  • $\begingroup$ @HDE226868 Thanks, I hadn't investigated that aspect. I better dig deeper :-) $\endgroup$ – andy256 Mar 18 '15 at 2:51
  • $\begingroup$ I think the issue you bring up in your edit has to do with the difference between an innocent question, and a spurious question. A genuine desire to know is present in the first case, in the second, the asker is only using the question as a means to an end - a joke, a little drama, as a straw man, something like that. Now, i admit that after voting to close the question, it occurred to me that the core principle of how a rocket works could have been wonderfully communicated by a great answer to it. But there is much risk associated with allowing joke questions to stand. $\endgroup$ – kim holder Apr 10 '15 at 21:31
  • $\begingroup$ @briligg Thanks for your further input. While that question did not show research, the point of my edit here is that the comment from TildalWave seems to say something different to the only answer here (yours). If future members of the community come to this question to learn how the community operates, then the accepted answer should match actual policy. Perhaps I misunderstood TildalWave's comment - easily done. So I am seeking clarification. $\endgroup$ – andy256 Apr 11 '15 at 0:40

"Search and research" in our How do I ask a good question page links to our site search, we're not redirecting our members to any other site to check how easily answerable their question might be elsewhere. Not to general web search engines, and not specialized knowledge repositories either. Granted, we do want to avoid trivial and too broad questions, but not at the cost of not even trying to be helpful, or even rubbing it in. That would go against our mandate to provide a comprehensive Q&A on the topic of space exploration.

So when you see a broad question, consider that author of the question might not realize how broad it is. You can then proceed at your discretion as you deem appropriate, but please try to be helpful and, well, nice. Some prescribed actions, assuming you don't want to answer a broad question in an equally broad sense too, could be to point to the fact that the question is too broad in comments, request in them from the author to narrow the scope of the question down, or even suggest an edit to do that yourself as long as you don't substantially deviate from what author intended and/or partially or completely invalidate or render obsolete already existing answers.

But if you feel that you could provide a helpful answer despite the question being broad, please, by all means, do. We're a Q&A (questions and answers) site after all. And the best way to be helpful is to pay it forward. This is in all ways supported by the system. For example, if you already started writing your answer and the question was in the meantime closed, you can still post your answer within some predefined grace period (which, I believe, is two hours). Once you posted you answer, and if it receives up-votes, author of the question can't even delete the whole thread any more, even if the question itself received many down-votes. This behavior of the system is quite intentionally crafted to support our Q&A nature and preserve contents that might be relevant to others, too.

So, in a nutshell; Sure, down-vote bad questions, vote to close if you deem they fail our documented qualitative requirements, but try to avoid judging their worth to the site by how much you know on the subject they ask about. Sometimes, the easiest questions are the toughest to answer. You don't have to accept the challenge to answer it, but keep in mind that someone else might want to, or already has, and that's what we're all about. Having even bad questions with hopefully good answers will always be preferable to having excellent questions with none.

Are there any questions worth closing at all then? Sure. Keep in mind that questions aren't actually closed immediately but put on hold with their author invited in the displayed close reason to edit the question for whatever reason it failed our requirements. But once they do so, they can also be reopened. And yes, sometimes, putting a question on hold will be good for it. For example, when you'd expect the question to later be edited to substantially narrow its scope (it sometimes takes a bit of intuition and deep understanding of the subject at hand which ones those are), you'd want to prevent hurried answers that could later become obsolete with the edit. For unclear questions, you could be trying to prevent shot in the dark answers. And so on.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks heaps for producing this extensive answer. I think it's a valuable addition to the knowledge base, and will be helpful to others in the future. $\endgroup$ – andy256 May 20 '15 at 10:46
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    $\begingroup$ Separate to that appreciation, it seems that the summary of your answer is no, no evidence of research is required. Personally I find this disappointing; IMHO this policy welcomes questions where the OP has done no research, but the question happens to not have been asked here before. The concern is that we're spending our time answering questions that are already answered in Wikipedia. In essence, duplicating Wikipedia. This is very different to my experience in other SO sites (eg English Language & Usage, History); Bicycles is an exception (I omit the main site and [programming.se]). $\endgroup$ – andy256 May 20 '15 at 11:00

I'm a relatively junior member here - i'm very active, but my knowledge of its field is pretty shallow (i'm working to correct that, though). So bear that in mind.

IMO, the role of Space.SE is two-fold. First, to help people learning or working in the field get help with questions. Second, to promote the field to a general audience.

Space exploration is not your average undertaking. Public perception of its value has a huge influence on how much funds are available to pursue it. Of late, this has become an issue even for commercial ventures - if SpaceX really wants to go to Mars, they need the public to really, really want to go too. That means everything that helps anyone know more about space contributes to the goal of expanding the field. Possibly, it is in fact the most ignorant (let us read that as 'innocent', in this context) questions that do the most to advance that mission.

You may have noticed that several of the questions on your example list have very high vote counts either for the question itself or one of the answers. They also have view counts that are much higher than average. This is the usual pattern for such questions. So they are fulfilling that second role nicely.

The Ceres question is a good example of a TL;DR question. Sure, someone could go to the Dawn mission site but many in the general public just want a quickie answer like the one written here. Such an answer is still better for raising interest and support than not providing an answer and expecting people to go find out. Many of these same people probably also feel that since their tax dollars paid for the whole thing, they deserve to be informed about it on their terms, in the way they choose.

And i could go on. (And i have before, but i'll spare you.) Themes: answering simple questions as a study method, engaging children, dissipating conspiracy theories.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for your reply. I'm hoping a mod will throw their hat in also - especially about the inconsistency between the Help and actual policy. $\endgroup$ – andy256 Mar 21 '15 at 9:58
  • $\begingroup$ @andy256 but of course. $\endgroup$ – kim holder Mar 21 '15 at 14:58

It's not really a question of if something can be researched. The real question is how much research is needed.

If the a good answer could be found within 10 minutes on Google, or within 10 minutes on Wikipedia, then the question is too simple.

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    $\begingroup$ I would amend that to: "If a good answer could be found within 10 minutes on Google, or within 10 minutes on Wikipedia, then the question is too simple." If the easily found answers are poor, I think there is room for us to provide an alternative. $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Jan 29 at 19:23
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    $\begingroup$ @called2voyage Each of the questions cited in the OP had what I thought were good answers in the first Google hits. I seem to be on a different planet to the SE community. I lost interest when I found it doesn't follow it's own rules. This Q/A was only a minor part of that. C'est la vie. $\endgroup$ – andy256 Jan 30 at 7:19
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    $\begingroup$ @andy256 My comment wasn't addressed to your question but to Sheldon's answer. The SE community has few overarching hard and fast rules--more in the way of guidelines. Each site has its own culture. One of the quirks of a community-driven enterprise is that 100% consistency is impossible. That said, I feel like we are fairly consistent, and that the outliers (such as the ones you have selected) are tolerable. You may disagree, but ultimately the community has to find a balance between being welcoming and being a stickler. Most people on SX err on the side of welcoming for questions. $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Jan 30 at 14:16

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