Introduction to Astronomy

Astronomy literally means – “law of the stars” in Greek. Astronomy deals with studying and understanding of all the celestial bodies and the material universe beyond the earth’s atmosphere. It is concerned with the study of the universe, from the Sun and its family of planets, satellites, nebulae, asteroids, meteors, and comets, to the hundreds of billions of other stars that make up our galaxy, to the hundreds of billions of other galaxies in the universe. Astronomers aexplore the universe using interplanetary spacecrafts, orbiting observatories and ground-based telescopes.  

Big Questions in Astronomy

Astronomy not only gives us futuristic insights but also tells us of our past and the history and the origin of the universe itself. Astronomers today are working to answer some very important and big questions such are:

  • Where did we come from?
  • How was the universe created?
  • What causes earth to support life?
  • Are we alone or is there life on other planets also?
  • How and why the stars are shining through the night?

Modern Applications

Apart from finding our more about our universe, the study of Astronomy has its practical applications. For example, knowledge in astronomy has contributed immensely to timekeeping, to the advent of our modern calendars and to our understanding of the cosmic influence on daily, seasonal, and long-term changes in weather. Astronomy plays a big part in modern air and sea navigation. So the next time you take a flight, remember it may  not be possible to reach your destination without the contribution of astronomy! Other fields of knowledge have also benefitted from astronomy. For example, mathematics, especially in trigonometry, logarithms, and calculus have gain from advances in the field of astronomy.

Branches and Specializations

Modern astronomy has branched out into specific fields such as:

  • celestial mechanics (study and measures the positions of celestial objects)
  • stellar astronomy (study of stars and their evolution)
  • cosmology (study of the universe as a whole) 
  • theoretical astronomy (study the workings of the universe)

Experts in Astronomy are divided into two categories : observational astronomers and theoretical astrophysicists. Observational astronomers deal with observing celestial bodies by using telescopes, binoculars, cameras, visible eyes etc and collecting data for building and maintaining instruments. Theorectical astrophysicists study celestial objects in the radio through gamma-ray wavelengths and finding out the conclusions of observations of computers as well as interpreted the observational results.

Interested to be a Stargazer?

To be an astronomer, a doctoral degree in astronomy or a closely related field, such as astrophysics, is usually required. Typically, University students study four years to get a bachelor’s degree and about another four years of full-time study to earn a doctoral degree. There are so many specialties in astronomy. Astronomers often work for government agencies (e.g NASA in America or in your home country’s national astronomy department) or in a university as a researcher. Some graduates choose to work in the observatories and laboratories. Apart from doing research work, graduates may choose to work for commercial companies in planetarium, and science centres. Alternatively, some may choose an academic and education career as a university lecturer.

Traits and Skills of a Successful Astronomer

Below are some traits you will need to have to be successful in the field of astronomy

The most important trait you need to have is the love for the subject. Most astronomers find their work exciting and personally rewarding because of the challenges it offers them. They enjoy spending long night-time hours in observatories and travelling a lot for conferences, meetings and observation runs. If you love astronomy, the work itself is the greatest reward.

Other useful traits to have include:

  • Good in mathematics and physics
  • Problem-solving and analytical skills
  • Inquisitive mind
  • Imagination,
  • Ability to use computers and complicated electronic equipment.

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