Humans have long gazed toward the heavens, searching to put meaning and order to the universe around them. Although the movement of constellations patterns imprinted on the night sky were the easiest to track, other celestial events such as eclipses and the motion of planets were also charted and predicted.
Definition of astronomy: Astronomy is the study of the sun, moon, stars, planets, comets, gas, galaxies, gas, dust and other non-Earthly bodies and phenomena. In curriculum for K-4 students, NASA defines astronomy as simple "the study of stars, planets and space." Astronomy and astrology were historically associated, but astrology is not a science and is no longer recognized as having anything to do with astronomy. Below we discuss the history of astronomy and related fields of study, including cosmology.
Historically, astronomy has focused on observations of heavenly bodies. It is a close cousin to astrophysics. Succinctly put, astrophysics involves the study of the physics of astronomy and concentrates on the behavior, properties and motion of objects out there. However, modern astronomy includes many elements of the motions and characteristics of these bodies, and the two terms are often used interchangeably today.
Modern astronomers tend to fall into two fields: the theoretical and the observational.
Unlike most other fields of science, astronomers are unable to observe a system entirely from birth to death; the lifetime of worlds, stars, and galaxies span millions to billions of years. Instead, astronomers must rely on snapshots of bodies in various stages of evolution to determine how they formed, evolved and died. Thus, theoretical and observational astronomy tend to blend together, as theoretical scientists use the information actually collected to create simulations, while the observations serve to confirm the models or to indicate the need for tweaking them.
Astronomy is broken down into a number of subfields, allowing scientists to specialize in particular objects and phenomena.
Planetary astronomers (also called planetary scientists) focus on the growth, evolution, and death of planets. While most study the worlds inside the solar system, some use the growing body of evidence about planets around other stars to hypothesize what they might be like. According to the University College London, planetary science "is a cross-discipline field including aspects of astronomy, atmospheric science, geology, space physics, biology and chemistry."
Stellar astronomers turn their eyes to the stars, including the black holes, nebulae, white dwarfs and supernova that survive stellar deaths. The University of California, Los Angeles, says, "The focus of stellar astronomy is on the physical and chemical processes that occur in the universe."
Solar astronomers spend their time analyzing a single star our sun. According to NASA, "The quantity and quality of light from the sun varies on time scales from milli-seconds to billions of years." Understanding those changes can help scientists recognize how Earth is affected. The sun also helps us to understand how other stars work, as it is the only star close enough to reveal details about its surface.
Galactic astronomers study our galaxy, the Milky Way, while extragalactic astronomers peer outside of it to determine how these collections of stars form, change, and die. The University of Wisconsin-Madison says, "Establishing patterns in the distribution, composition, and physical conditions of stars and gas traces the history of our evolving home galaxy."
Cosmologists focus on the universe in its entirety, from its violent birth in the Big Bang to its present evolution, all the way to its eventual death. Astronomy is often (not always) about very concrete, observable things, whereas cosmology typically involves large-scale properties of the universe and esoteric, invisible and sometimes purely theoretical things like string theory, dark matter and dark energy, and the notion of multiple universes.
Astronomical observers rely on different wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum (from radio waves to visible light and on up to X-rays and gamma-rays) to study the wide span of objects in the universe. The first telescopes focused on simple optical studies of what could be seen with the naked eye, and many telescopes continue that today. [Celestial Photos: Hubble Space Telescope's Latest Cosmic Views]
But as light waves become more or less energetic, they move faster or slower. Different telescopes are necessary to study the various wavelengths. More energetic radiation, with shorter wavelengths, appears in the form of ultraviolet, X-ray, and gamma-ray wavelengths, while less energetic objects emit longer-wavelength infrared and radio waves.
Astrometry, the most ancient branch of astronomy, is the measure of the sun, moon and planets. The precise calculations of these motions allows astronomers in other fields to model the birth and evolution of planets and stars, and to predict events such as eclipses meteor showers, and the appearance of comets. According to the Planetary Society, "Astrometry is the oldest method used to detect extrasolar planets," though it remains a difficult process.
Early astronomers noticed patterns in the sky and attempted to organize them in order to track and predict their motion. Known as constellations, these patterns helped people of the past to measure the seasons. The movement of the stars and other heavenly bodies was tracked around the world, but was prevalent in China, Egypt, Greece, Mesopotamia, Central America and India.
The image of an astronomer is a lone soul at a telescope during all hours of the night. In reality, most hard-core astronomy today is done with observations made at remote telescopes on the ground or in space that are controlled by computers, with astronomers studying computer-generated data and images.
Since the advent of photography, and particularly digital photography, astronomers have provided amazing pictures of space that not only inform science but enthrall the public. [All-Time Great Galaxy Photos]
Astronomers and spaceflight programs also contribute to the study of our own planet, when missions primed at looking outward (or travelling to the moon and beyond) look back and snap great pictures of Earth from space.
Follow Nola Taylor Redd at @NolaTRedd, Facebook, or Google+. Follow us at @Spacedotcom, Facebook or Google+.
Continue reading here:
- 'It just sounds like a thud': astronomers hear biggest cosmic event since big bang - The Guardian - September 4th, 2020
- The Sky This Week from September 4 to 11 - Astronomy Magazine - September 4th, 2020
- A nearby supernova could have caused the Devonian mass extinction - Astronomy Magazine - September 4th, 2020
- Great Basin National Park astronomy festival to be held mostly virtually this month - FOX5 Las Vegas - September 4th, 2020
- Indian astronomers discover one of the farthest galaxies in the universe - Moneycontrol - September 4th, 2020
- Breaking down the astronomical number of mail-in ballot requests in NC - CBS17.com - September 4th, 2020
- Meet The Woman Behind Ninjas Astronomical Success: Jessica Blevins - Forbes - September 4th, 2020
- Tesla To Cash in on Astronomical Stock Price With $5 Billion Capital Raise - The Drive - September 4th, 2020
- A supernova that left chaos in its wake - SYFY WIRE - September 4th, 2020
- The ghost of an angry black hole still haunts this galaxy - SYFY WIRE - September 4th, 2020
- Amazon Satellites Add to Astronomers Worries About the Night Sky - The New York Times - August 10th, 2020
- The Last Stargazers? Why You Will Never See An Astronomer Looking Through A Telescope - Forbes - August 10th, 2020
- Ceres: An ocean world in the asteroid belt - Astronomy Magazine - August 10th, 2020
- Small stars are vital to dispersing the building blocks of life - Astronomy Magazine - August 10th, 2020
- Bookmonger: 'The Last Stargazers' is a behind-the-scenes look at astronomy - Discover Our Coast - August 10th, 2020
- Explore Pollinators And Islamic Astronomy This Week With PEEC - Los Alamos Reporter - August 10th, 2020
- Astronomers May Have Identified The Biggest Impact Structure in Our Solar System - ScienceAlert - August 10th, 2020
- ASTRONOMY: When it comes to night sky, be prepared! - Mdcp.nwaonline.com - August 10th, 2020
- Astronomers Say That Planets Orbiting Black Holes Are Called "Blanets" - Futurism - August 10th, 2020
- Because the Universe isn't weird enough: Black hole planets may exist. - SYFY WIRE - August 10th, 2020
- When the supermassive black hole's away, the stars will play - SYFY WIRE - August 10th, 2020
- A Star Went Supernova in 1987. Where Is It Now? - The New York Times - August 10th, 2020
- Astronomers Part of Pasadena-Based Carnegie's Team Reveal 'Last of its Kind' Remnant of Ancient Globular Cluster - Pasadena Now - August 10th, 2020
- NASA is changing some insensitive space terminology - heres why - Linlithgow Journal and Gazette - August 10th, 2020
- VLT Measures Main-Belt Asteroid Euphrosyne and Its Moon | Astronomy - Sci-News.com - August 10th, 2020
- View On Astronomy: Perseids meteor shower an annual attraction - The Independent - August 10th, 2020
- A Globular Cluster was Completely Dismantled and Turned Into a Ring Around the Milky Way - Universe Today - August 10th, 2020
- Could JWST Discover the Largest Object in the Universe? Now. Powered by - Now. Powered by Northrop Grumman. - August 10th, 2020
- Here's How Exploding Stars Forged The Calcium in Your Teeth And Bones - ScienceAlert - August 10th, 2020
- Astronomers find the largest impact crater in the solar system - FREE NEWS - August 10th, 2020
- See the 'space butterfly' astronomers captured from thousands of light years away - CNN - August 8th, 2020
- The best place to see stars from Earth also happens to be the coldest place on the planet - Space.com - August 8th, 2020
- Astronomical First: Differences Detected Between Discs of Active and Non-Active Galaxies - SciTechDaily - August 8th, 2020
- Rivers on ancient Mars may have flowed beneath sheets of ice - Astronomy Magazine - August 8th, 2020
- Move over, SpaceX Amazon is sending its own satellites into orbit - Salon - August 8th, 2020
- Amateur Astronomers Find a Saturn-Sized Planet in The Habitable Zone of a Distant Star - ScienceAlert - August 8th, 2020
- Astronomy Apps Market Expected to Witness the Highest Growth 2025 - AlgosOnline - August 8th, 2020
- Saturn-Sized Exoplanet Discovered by the Gravitational Wobble in the Small, Cool Star It Orbits - SciTechDaily - August 8th, 2020
- 9 of the Best Books About Astronomy - Book Riot - August 8th, 2020
- Prof Melvin Hoare is Driving Development in Africa with Radio Astronomy - Space in Africa - August 8th, 2020
- Top astronomical events to look forward to in August 2020 - Wales Online - August 7th, 2020
- A Strange Planet has been Found thats Smaller than Neptune But 50% More Massive - Universe Today - August 7th, 2020
- What planets should we search to find alien life? - Astronomy Magazine - August 4th, 2020
- Mars 2020 launch: NASA's Perseverance rover ready for the Red Planet - Astronomy Magazine - August 4th, 2020
- A Movie of the Evolving Universe Is Potentially Scary - Scientific American - August 4th, 2020
- Mini-Neptunes could be super-Earths with bloated atmospheres of water - Astronomy Magazine - August 3rd, 2020
- A Movie of the Evolving Universe, Potentially Scary - Scientific American - August 3rd, 2020
- Study: Universe Might Be 1.2 Billion Years Younger | Astronomy - Sci-News.com - August 3rd, 2020
- Stargazing: Astronomers estimate Earth-size planets number in the billions - Oklahoman.com - August 3rd, 2020
- Boosting the representation of Black students - Symmetry magazine - August 3rd, 2020
- There are Natural Starshades Out There, Which Would Help Astronomers Image Exoplanets - Universe Today - August 3rd, 2020
- How astronomers rediscovered a lost world - EarthSky - August 3rd, 2020
- Antonia: A Maury to be Proud Of - Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber - August 3rd, 2020
- SpaceX: Crew Dragon is returning to Earth here's when to hold your - Astronomy Magazine - August 3rd, 2020
- Neuroscience, astronomy, animal behavior, and more: Black scientists are showcasing their research on social media - Massive Science - August 2nd, 2020
- The CO2 Elephant in the Room: Curbing the Carbon Footprint of Astronomy - Astrobites - August 2nd, 2020
- Scientists Find The Best Place on Earth For Viewing The Night Sky, But There's a Catch - ScienceAlert - August 2nd, 2020
- Mind-blowing Astronomy Photo of the Year competition reveals strange galaxies and space portals - The Sun - August 2nd, 2020
- Innovative balloon-borne telescope promises rich infrared reward - Astronomy Now Online - August 2nd, 2020
- Astronomers just spotted ancient stars lurking at the edges of our galaxy - BGR - August 2nd, 2020
- Astronomers found a bunch of ancient stars displaced by our galaxy - BGR - July 31st, 2020
- Astronomy - Wikipedia - July 31st, 2020
- astronomy | Definition & Facts | Britannica - July 31st, 2020
- Astronomy for Beginners | Night Sky Facts, FAQs ... - July 31st, 2020
- Mars shifting sands revealed by long-term observations - Astronomy Magazine - July 31st, 2020
- Astronomers nab the farthest visible explosion from a neutron star collision ever seen - SYFY WIRE - July 31st, 2020
- A&M-Commerce Planetarium & Observatory Offer the Universe to Students and Community - frontporchnewstexas.com - July 31st, 2020
- This Is the Single Best Place To Stargaze on Earth - Popular Mechanics - July 30th, 2020
- Apple TV+ has Acquired the Rights to the Original Astronomy Documentary 'Fireball' - Patently Apple - July 30th, 2020
- Hitting the reset button | Lifestyles - Enid News & Eagle - July 29th, 2020
- Astronomers Discover One of the Coolest Transiting Gas Giants | Astronomy - Sci-News.com - July 29th, 2020
- A Faraway Solar System Is an Uncanny Reflection of Our Own - The Atlantic - July 29th, 2020
- Gamma-Ray Telescopes Can Measure the Diameters of Other Stars - Universe Today - July 29th, 2020
- Astronomers Capture the First Ever Photo of Two Planets Orbiting a Sun-Like Star - PetaPixel - July 29th, 2020
- Thanks to astronomy, researchers in Texas figure out the time, date, and year of Vermeer's "View of Delft" - Art Critique - July 29th, 2020
- To Mars! Perseverance rover all set to launch on Thursday 30 July - SYFY WIRE - July 29th, 2020
- Thinking Outside the Classroom: Astronomical phenomena you can see during the day - Summit Daily News - July 29th, 2020
- Astronomy news: Never before seen cosmic structures spotted in distant galaxy - Daily Express - July 26th, 2020
- Astronomers Do the Math to Figure Out Exactly When Johannes Vermeer Painted this, More than 350 Years Ago - Universe Today - July 26th, 2020
- Pinning down the suns birthplace just got more complicated - Science News - July 26th, 2020