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What is Astronomy and Why Is It Important

One of the leading fields of science is astronomy. Observation of the stars at night has led to many theories regarding physics and the universe. Some of these theories have driven new theories in other scientific fields and even higher level math to help explain the theories.

Amateur stargazing has been used through human history. Once the connection was made that there are repeating cycles in the locations of certain stars at night, those positions could be recorded and used to make predictions about weather or other natural phenomena. Early farmers would wait for constellations to prepare for seasonal weather changes to be able to optimize crop planting and harvesting. Other seasonal events, like river flooding from winter thawing or spring rains, could also be anticipated by watching star positions.

In the 1500s, Tycho Brahe established a primitive observatory and made accurate measurements that firmly established the fact that the sun is at the center of the solar system. His data was so accurate and repeatable by anyone, that older theories with the Earth at the center of the universe were no longer accepted. This adjustment in thinking is important to understanding the physical laws of the universe.

Galileo expanded use of telescopes to show that stars were not just lights in the sky, but distinct planets. Newton developed a theory of motion that describes the effects of gravity in a accurate, measurable manner. Previous theories of motion were inconsistent and completely failed at describing motion far distances from the Earth. That data gathered from even the largest observatory showed Newton’s theories of motion and gravity to be accurate and consistent over enormous distances. Not until Einstein’s theory of relativity could the minor errors in Newton’s theories be explained.

Even Albert Einstein would have difficulty resolving issues with data from telescopic observatories. As measurements with greater accuracy could be made, relativity failed to describe all aspects of the universe from the very far to the very small. Einstein spent the rest of his life trying to find a “Theory of Everything” that could reconcile inconsistencies observed in nature with his predictions. Theoretical physics still has not been able to find a solution to the problem of reconciling the mathematical theories of quantum physics with the observable universe.

The fascination with stargazing for fun or to gather data through careful observation of stars, has created a great deal of information. Astronomy does not just help us see what is in space but is critical to our understanding of the laws of the universe.