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What Is Astronomy? 101 For Beginners

What is Astronomy and Why Does It Matter?
What is Astronomy and Why Does It Matter?

Updated February 20th, 2020

It can be embarrassing when a topic comes up in conversation, and you have no clue how to contribute to the dialogue. Has this happened to you recently with astronomy, and you left the discussion, wondering, “What is astronomy?” Well, rather than running out to the bookstore and purchasing Astronomy for Beginners, you can get a quick overview here.

What is Astronomy?

Astronomy is a branch of science that focuses on the study of the universe, including outer space, celestial objects and the phenomena of the universe. 

We Said Astronomy — Not Astrology 

It should be clarified that astronomy shouldn’t be confused with astrology. Astrology is the study of the position of stars, and it’s relation to people’s personalities. Astrology isn't considered an official science. 

The History of Astronomy

Astronomy is one of the oldest branches of science. Humans have always been interested in the stars and the universe. Had you asked, "What is astronomy?" centuries ago, you would’ve gotten a much different answer. Up until the 17th Century, astronomy was mostly focused on predicting the movement of the sun and moon, and the charting of the stars. As science advanced, some extensive discoveries and inventions changed the landscape of astronomy. The invention of the telescope and the discovery of the laws of motion and gravity revolutionized the field of astronomy and broadened it significantly. 

Since then, the scope of what falls under the "What is astronomy?" category keeps growing. Today, modern astronomy covers astrophysics, radiation in space, nuclear reactions in the universe and cosmology (the evolution of the universe). It’s truly a vast and complicated field! 

Why Does Astronomy Matter?

Astronomy is one of the most important fields of study for several reasons. 

  1. Astronomy may explain our existence on this planet. There are branches of astronomy that try to understand how humans got here. 
  2. While we may be wrapped up in our world, there is so much more out there. Astronomy looks to explore and understand the universe as a whole. 
  3. Astronomy keeps track of objects that are nearing too close to the Earth and putting everyone in danger. 
  4. Just looking up at the sky and seeing the vast space, reminds us of our limited existence. It’s these moments that teach us to be grateful for everything we’re experiencing. 

Who Studies Astronomy?

Modern-day scientists that study astronomy can fit into two categories: theoretical astronomers and observational astronomers. Theoretical astronomers model and try to understand how systems may have evolved. Observational astronomers focus on the direct study of existing planets, stars and galaxies. Both groupings are equally crucial to the field of astronomy. There are then subfields within astronomy, which produce planetary scientists, stellar astronomers, galactic astronomers, solar astronomers and cosmologists. 

So … What is Astronomy Again?

To recap, this field of science examines the entire universe. It’s a complex science and has many subfields. We turn to astronomy to answer some of life’s most important questions, such as how human existence came to be and how our universe evolved. 

You can still get that Astronomy for Beginners book; we promise you’ll learn a lot more. At least now you have the founding principles to get you through dinner party conversations! (For more space info, please click here.)


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