Astronomy is the study of space, but it is so much more. In fact, the astronomy definition states that it is the research of celestial objects and phenomena that sit or occur outside of the Earth’s atmosphere. That encompasses a lot of different fields.
Science is something that many people are aware of. However, it can be rather difficult to define. For example, though most people know astronomy pertains to space, they do not know much more beyond that.
This guide will break down the science to give you a better understanding of what it is and answer the question, “what is astronomy?”
Looking to the Stars
Astronomy is one of the oldest sciences on Earth. It was first used by scientists in ancient civilizations who were interested in the stars, and it has persisted through every single age since.
Anything that has to do with, or is connected to, celestial objects links to astronomy. That means, while studying planets or celestial bodies is astronomy, so is understanding the evolution, physics, chemistry of such objects. It also includes any study that deals with the formation and development of the universe.
For that reason, modern astronomy is an interdisciplinary science that relies upon, and furthers the development of, fields like chemistry, physics, mathematics, and computer science.
The Two Types of Modern Astronomy
Currently, there are two branches of astronomy. The first, known as observational astronomy, is a field that deals with gathering and analyzing hard data that pertains to space or space science. This is mainly based on basic principles of physics, but can incorporate other sciences as well.
The other branch, theoretical astronomy, is more about the using technology to answer big questions about the universe. This branch focuses on creating analytical or theoretical models to describe astronomical objects and data. As a result, it helps scientists make estimates about objects that are too far away to study.
However, it is important to note that the two branches do not operate independently. Rather, they perfectly complement one another. Theoretical astronomy seeks to explain observational results, and observations are used to confirm theoretical theories.
Typically, when an astronomist notes something interesting they run it through a model or simulation to either confirm or deny their theories. In that way, the physical astronomy is only made real by the theoretical.
Understanding that is a big part of defining astronomy because you cannot see the science as two different fields. Rather, it blends together in a way where theoretical and observational meet. Most astronomy is based on observations that come from both areas and are then blended together.
Answering the Unanswerable
What makes astronomy so interesting is that, unlike most sciences, there are a lot of unknowns and unanswered questions. That is because researchers have no way to observe a system or celestial body from its birth all the way until its death.
Most planetary objects exist for millions to billions of years.
As a result, rather than use solid evidence, astronomers base a lot of their research on snapshots of different bodies and then make estimates off of such data. Extrapolation is a huge part of this field, as are educated estimates.
A Mix of Professional and Amateur Observations
A big part of astronomy is understanding the way the universe works and operates. This includes the bodies within our own solar system, as well as the evolution and makeup of much more distant galaxies.
As only astronomical objects can be reached with spacecraft, we depend on astronomy to learn and study anything beyond those distances. This is done through special telescopes, satellites, or spacecraft.
However, amateur astronomers have contributed to recent discoveries as well. In fact, it is one of the few sciences where amateurs can play an active role. Scientists often consult individuals looking up at the sky when any strange or unexplained phenomena occur.
There are many different aspects that astronomers study, and the entire science is broken down into a range of different subfields. This includes the scientific study of the universe as well as all objects in it, including galaxies, planets, and stars.
Shedding Light on the Unknown
There is a lot we know about the universe, but there is a lot we don’t know as well. New things are being discovered every single day, and there is no telling what the field will look like in ten or fifty years.
As so much of the universe is a mystery to researchers, astronomy is one of the fastest evolving scientific fields.
Researchers constantly work to discover more about distant galaxies, planets, and stars. The truth is, the universe is infinite, meaning that there is no way to study even a fraction of it with the technology we have. Through astronomy, that may not be the case in the future.