What is Astronomy?
In simple terms, astronomy is the study and science of everything beyond the Earths’ outer atmosphere. As a scientific discipline, astronomy draws heavily on several other sciences, predominantly mathematics, physics, and geology, in order to help map, predict and determine the properties of the universe. Astronomers study the origins and the movements of planets and other heavenly bodies, the physics and chemistry of celestial objects, and the Earths’ place in what is known as the ‘Big Picture’ – the large-scale properties of the Universe.
In short, Astronomy is the study of space, and everything to do with it. Derived from the Ancient Greek words astro, or "star," and nomos, meaning law or order, astronomy has been practiced by human beings for thousands of years. Since the very dawn of civilization, man has used the motions of the stars to work out the passage of time, and to fix his location. Neanderthal man watched the moon and stars to determine when would be good times to hunt. The Sumerians, Babylonians and Greeks all made huge advances in astronomic understanding, plotting the phases of the moon, the paths of the stars, and discovering the first constellations. The Chinese and the Egyptians both independently developed the 24-hour day, and the Chinese also recorded the first supernova on Earth in 154 AD.
However, modern astronomy really leapt to the forefront of the academic sciences in the 17th century, when Galileo first recorded the Moons’ craters, Jupiter's moons and Saturn's rings using a telescope. Studies into gravity led to the creation of celestial mechanics and Copernicus’ discovery of the solar-centric solar system; the theory that all planets revolved around the sun, and not the Earth. It was around this time that the science of astrology – horoscopes, predictions and suchlike – began to lose credibility amongst the scientifically-minded Europeans.
During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the discovery of several new fields of scientific study allowed for an even more intensive study of space. Astronomers began to create the science of astrophysics, which is probably the single most important of the astronomic disciplines. Advances in space travel have allowed the launching of satellites such as Hubble and Herschel, two gigantic space telescopes who send back pictures of the furthest parts of the universe.
Modern astronomy is a fairly unique science in that rank amateurs and noted experts both contribute huge amounts to the field. Stars are routinely discovered by stargazers in their back yards, and communication between professionals and amateurs is far more common than other sciences.
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