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The Scientific Field of Astronomy Video

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  • 0:01 What Is Astronomy?
  • 1:28 History of Astronomy
  • 2:58 Fields of Astronomy
  • 4:53 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sarah Friedl

Sarah has two Master's, one in Zoology and one in GIS, a Bachelor's in Biology, and has taught college level Physical Science and Biology.

Space is a large and exciting place, full of things we have yet to discover. Astronomy aims to uncover the mysteries of space, something people have been fascinated with as long as they have been on Earth.

What Is Astronomy?

Earth is a pretty large place, but compared to the rest of the universe, it's almost negligible. There's just so much space out there, and it's filled with billions of other things, like planets, stars, and galaxies.

If you like studying what's beyond Earth, you would make a good astronomer. Astronomy is the study of stars, planets, and space - basically everything else outside of Earth. I want to be very clear that astronomy should not be confused with astrology, which not only is not a science, but is the belief that human events are related to the position of celestial bodies.

You can think about the difference like this: astronomy is the scientific study that explains why stars are where they are, while astrology is an unfounded belief that the position of stars influences our daily lives. There's just no scientific backing for it, and we're going to leave it at that.

We also need to understand the difference between astronomy and cosmology. They're sort of similar, but the field of astronomy is concerned with space and what's in it, while cosmology is the study of the universe as a whole. Cosmologists are interested in things like the history of the universe, its origin, and its evolution over time. So, if the universe were a pizza, cosmology would be the study of how pizza came to be, while astronomy would be the study of the crust, sauce, cheese, and other toppings that come on that pizza.

History of Astronomy

Things in space are really far away, so modern astronomers use things like telescopes to help them see what's going on out there. But before this time, sky viewers had to use their own eyes to observe what was going on in space. You can't get a lot of detail this way, but you can create maps of the stars and planets. And this is much of what early astronomy consisted of.

The 16th and 17th centuries are pretty famous because during this time a Scientific Revolution began that changed the game forever. Scientists started inventing, questioning, and experimenting like never before. In fact, much of what we know about space today came from the hard work and insight of folks like Copernicus, Brahe, Galileo, Newton, and Kepler during this time.

For example, Copernicus showed that the Earth revolves around the sun (not the other way around), and the planet Uranus was discovered. There were also major improvements to the telescope during this time, and Newton proposed his law of universal gravitation, which explained the motion of the planets in our solar system.

As you can see, it was a busy, yet productive time. And it's because of this ingenuity and determination that the modern field of astronomy exists today. In more recent history, astronomers have discovered other galaxies, solar systems, and even black holes. Imagine trying to see those with your naked eyes!

Fields of Astronomy

Space is vast and full of interesting things to study. Therefore, there are many different types of astronomers that work in different types of specialized fields. Planetary astronomy is one such field and is just what it sounds like: the study of planets. These could be planets within our own solar system or ones in other solar systems.

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