cosmic microwave background radiation. More generally, astronomy studies everything that originates beyond Earth's atmosphere. Cosmology is a branch of astronomy that studies the universe as a whole.
Astronomy is one of the oldest natural sciences. The early civilizations in
Professional astronomy is split into observational and theoretical branches. Observational astronomy is focused on acquiring data from observations of astronomical objects. This data is then analyzed using basic principles of physics. Theoretical astronomy is oriented toward the development of computer or analytical models to describe astronomical objects and phenomena. These two fields complement each other. Theoretical astronomy seeks to explain observational results and observations are used to confirm theoretical results.
Astronomy is one of the few sciences in which amateurs play an
Astronomy (from the Greekἀστρονομία from ἄστρονastron, "star" and -νομία -nomia from νόμοςnomos, "law" or "culture") means "law of the stars" (or "culture of the stars" depending on the translation). Astronomy should not be confused with astrology, the belief system which claims that human affairs are correlated with the positions of celestial objects. Although the two fields share a common origin, they are now entirely distinct.
Use of terms "astronomy" and "astrophysics"
"Astronomy" and "astrophysics" are synonyms. Based on strict dictionary definitions, "astronomy" refers to "the study of objects and matter outside the Earth's atmosphere and of their physical and chemical properties," while "astrophysics" refers to the branch of astronomy dealing with "the behavior, physical properties, and dynamic processes of celestial objects and phenomena". In some cases, as in the introduction of the introductory textbook The Physical Universe by Frank Shu, "astronomy" may be used to describe the qualitative study of the subject, whereas "astrophysics" is used to describe the physics-oriented version of the subject. However, since most modern astronomical research deals with subjects related to physics, modern astronomy could actually be called astrophysics. Some fields, such as astrometry, are purely astronomy rather than also astrophysics. Various departments in which scientists carry out research on this subject may use "astronomy" and "astrophysics", partly depending on whether the department is historically affiliated with a physics department, and many professional astronomers have physics rather than astronomy degrees. Some titles of the leading scientific journals in this field include The Astronomical Journal, The Astrophysical Journal, and Astronomy & Astrophysics.
A celestial map from the 17th century, by the Dutch cartographer Frederik de Wit
In early historic times, astronomy only consisted of the observation and predictions of the motions of objects visible to the naked eye. In some locations, early cultures assembled massive artifacts that possibly had some astronomical purpose. In addition to their ceremonial uses, these observatories could be employed to determine the seasons, an important factor in knowing when to plant crops and in understanding the length of the year.
Before tools such as the telescope were invented, early study of the stars was conducted using the naked eye. As civilizations developed, most notably in
Following the Babylonians, significant advances in astronomy were made in
planets for a given date. Technological artifacts of similar complexity did not reappear until the 14th century, when mechanical astronomical clocks appeared in Europe.
Medieval Europe housed a number of important astronomers. Richard of Wallingford (1292–1336) made major contributions to astronomy and horology, including the invention of the first astronomical clock, the Rectangulus which allowed for the measurement of angles between planets and other astronomical bodies, as well as an equatorium called the Albion which could be used for astronomical calculations such as lunar, solar and planetarylongitudes and could predict eclipses. Nicole Oresme (1320–1382) and Jean Buridan (1300–1361) first discussed evidence for the rotation of the Earth, furthermore, Buridan also developed the theory of impetus (predecessor of the modern scientific theory of inertia) which was able to show planets were capable of motion without the intervention of angels.Georg von Peuerbach (1423–1461) and Regiomontanus (1436–1476) helped make astronomical progress instrumental to Copernicus's development of the heliocentric model decades later.
Post-classical West Africa, Astronomers studied the movement of stars and relation to seasons, crafting charts of the heavens as well as precise diagrams of orbits of the other planets based on complex mathematical calculations. Songhai historian Mahmud Kati documented a meteor shower in August 1583.
Europeans had previously believed that there had been no astronomical observation in sub-Saharan Africa during the pre-colonial Middle Ages, but modern discoveries show otherwise.
For over six centuries (from the recovery of ancient learning during the late Middle Ages into the Enlightenment), the
Roman Catholic Church gave more financial and social support to the study of astronomy than probably all other institutions. Among the Church's motives was finding the date for Easter.
on which the observations are made. Some parts of the spectrum can be observed from the Earth's surface, while other parts are only observable from either high altitudes or outside the Earth's atmosphere. Specific information on these subfields is given below.
Radio astronomy uses radiation with wavelengths greater than approximately one millimeter, outside the visible range. Radio astronomy is different from most other forms of observational astronomy in that the observed radio waves can be treated as waves rather than as discrete photons. Hence, it is relatively easier to measure both the amplitude and phase of radio waves, whereas this is not as easily done at shorter wavelengths.
interstellar gas, notably the hydrogen spectral line at 21 cm, are observable at radio wavelengths.
A wide variety of other objects are observable at radio wavelengths, including
wavelengths close to visible light, such radiation is heavily absorbed by the atmosphere, or masked, as the atmosphere itself produces significant infrared emission. Consequently, infrared observatories have to be located in high, dry places on Earth or in space. Some molecules radiate strongly in the infrared. This allows the study of the chemistry of space; more specifically it can detect water in comets.
Gamma ray astronomy observes astronomical objects at the shortest wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum. Gamma rays may be observed directly by satellites such as the
atmospheric Cherenkov telescopes. The Cherenkov telescopes do not detect the gamma rays directly but instead detect the flashes of visible light produced when gamma rays are absorbed by the Earth's atmosphere.
Most gamma-ray emitting sources are actually gamma-ray bursts, objects which only produce gamma radiation for a few milliseconds to thousands of seconds before fading away. Only 10% of gamma-ray sources are non-transient sources. These steady gamma-ray emitters include pulsars, neutron stars, and black hole candidates such as active galactic nuclei.
Fields not based on the electromagnetic spectrum
In addition to electromagnetic radiation, a few other events originating from great distances may be observed from the Earth.
supernova 1987A.Cosmic rays, which consist of very high energy particles (atomic nuclei) that can decay or be absorbed when they enter the Earth's atmosphere, result in a cascade of secondary particles which can be detected by current observatories. Some future neutrino detectors may also be sensitive to the particles produced when cosmic rays hit the Earth's atmosphere.
gravitational-wave detectors to collect observational data about distant massive objects. A few observatories have been constructed, such as the Laser Interferometer Gravitational ObservatoryLIGO. LIGO made its first detection on 14 September 2015, observing gravitational waves from a binary black hole. A second gravitational wave was detected on 26 December 2015 and additional observations should continue but gravitational waves require extremely sensitive instruments.
The combination of observations made using electromagnetic radiation, neutrinos or gravitational waves and other complementary information, is known as multi-messenger astronomy.
One of the oldest fields in astronomy, and in all of science, is the measurement of the positions of celestial objects. Historically, accurate knowledge of the positions of the Sun, Moon, planets and stars has been essential in celestial navigation (the use of celestial objects to guide navigation) and in the making of calendars.
Careful measurement of the positions of the planets has led to a solid understanding of gravitational perturbations, and an ability to determine past and future positions of the planets with great accuracy, a field known as celestial mechanics. More recently the tracking of near-Earth objects will allow for predictions of close encounters or potential collisions of the Earth with those objects.
The measurement of stellar parallax of nearby stars provides a fundamental baseline in the cosmic distance ladder that is used to measure the scale of the Universe. Parallax measurements of nearby stars provide an absolute baseline for the properties of more distant stars, as their properties can be compared. Measurements of the radial velocity and proper motion of stars allow astronomers to plot the movement of these systems through the Milky Way galaxy. Astrometric results are the basis used to calculate the distribution of speculated dark matter in the galaxy.
Theoretical astronomers use several tools including analytical models and computationalnumerical simulations; each has its particular advantages. Analytical models of a process are better for giving broader insight into the heart of what is going on. Numerical models reveal the existence of phenomena and effects otherwise unobserved.
Theorists in astronomy endeavor to create theoretical models and from the results predict observational consequences of those models. The observation of a phenomenon predicted by a model allows astronomers to select between several alternate or conflicting models as the one best able to describe the phenomena.
Theorists also try to generate or modify models to take into account new data. In the case of an inconsistency between the data and the model's results, the general tendency is to try to make minimal modifications to the model so that it produces results that fit the data. In some cases, a large amount of inconsistent data over time may lead to the total abandonment of a model.
Phenomena modeled by theoretical astronomers include:
Astrochemistry is the study of the abundance and reactions of molecules in the Universe, and their interaction with radiation. The discipline is an overlap of astronomy and chemistry. The word "astrochemistry" may be applied to both the Solar System and the interstellar medium. The study of the abundance of elements and isotope ratios in Solar System objects, such as meteorites, is also called cosmochemistry, while the study of interstellar atoms and molecules and their interaction with radiation is sometimes called molecular astrophysics. The formation, atomic and chemical composition, evolution and fate of molecular gas clouds is of special interest, because it is from these clouds that solar systems form.
Studies in this field contribute to the understanding of the
formation of the Solar System, Earth's origin and geology, abiogenesis
When the first neutral atoms formed from a sea of primordial ions, space became transparent to radiation, releasing the energy viewed today as the microwave background radiation. The expanding Universe then underwent a Dark Age due to the lack of stellar energy sources.
A hierarchical structure of matter began to form from minute variations in the mass density of space. Matter accumulated in the densest regions, forming clouds of gas and the earliest stars, the
Population III stars. These massive stars triggered the reionization process and are believed to have created many of the heavy elements in the early Universe, which, through nuclear decay, create lighter elements, allowing the cycle of nucleosynthesis to continue longer.
Gravitational aggregations clustered into filaments, leaving voids in the gaps. Gradually, organizations of gas and dust merged to form the first primitive galaxies. Over time, these pulled in more matter, and were often organized into groups and clusters of galaxies, then into larger-scale superclusters.
Various fields of physics are crucial to studying the universe. Interdisciplinary studies involve the fields of
Fundamental to the structure of the Universe is the existence of dark matter and dark energy. These are now thought to be its dominant components, forming 96% of the mass of the Universe. For this reason, much effort is expended in trying to understand the physics of these components.
This image shows several blue, loop-shaped objects that are multiple images of the same galaxy, duplicated by the gravitational lens
effect of the cluster of yellow galaxies near the middle of the photograph. The lens is produced by the cluster's gravitational field that bends light to magnify and distort the image of a more distant object.
As the name suggests, an elliptical galaxy has the cross-sectional shape of an ellipse. The stars move along random orbits with no preferred direction. These galaxies contain little or no interstellar dust, few star-forming regions, and older stars. Elliptical galaxies are more commonly found at the core of galactic clusters, and may have been formed through mergers of large galaxies.
A spiral galaxy is organized into a flat, rotating disk, usually with a prominent bulge or bar at the center, and trailing bright arms that spiral outward. The arms are dusty regions of star formation within which massive young stars produce a blue tint. Spiral galaxies are typically surrounded by a halo of older stars. Both the Milky Way and one of our nearest galaxy neighbors, the Andromeda Galaxy, are spiral galaxies.
Irregular galaxies are chaotic in appearance, and are neither spiral nor elliptical. About a quarter of all galaxies are irregular, and the peculiar shapes of such galaxies may be the result of gravitational interaction.
An active galaxy is a formation that emits a significant amount of its energy from a source other than its stars, dust and gas. It is powered by a compact region at the core, thought to be a supermassive black hole that is emitting radiation from in-falling material.
A radio galaxy is an active galaxy that is very luminous in the radio portion of the spectrum, and is emitting immense plumes or lobes of gas. Active galaxies that emit shorter frequency, high-energy radiation include Seyfert galaxies, Quasars, and Blazars. Quasars are believed to be the most consistently luminous objects in the known universe.
large-scale structure of the cosmos is represented by groups and clusters of galaxies. This structure is organized into a hierarchy of groupings, with the largest being the superclusters. The collective matter is formed into filaments and walls, leaving large voids between.
The Solar System orbits within the Milky Way, a barred spiral galaxy that is a prominent member of the Local Group of galaxies. It is a rotating mass of gas, dust, stars and other objects, held together by mutual gravitational attraction. As the Earth is located within the dusty outer arms, there are large portions of the Milky Way that are obscured from view.
In the center of the Milky Way is the core, a bar-shaped bulge with what is believed to be a
As the more massive stars appear, they transform the cloud into an H II region (ionized atomic hydrogen) of glowing gas and plasma. The stellar wind and supernova explosions from these stars eventually cause the cloud to disperse, often leaving behind one or more young open clusters of stars. These clusters gradually disperse, and the stars join the population of the Milky Way.
Kinematic studies of matter in the Milky Way and other galaxies have demonstrated that there is more mass than can be accounted for by visible matter. A dark matter halo appears to dominate the mass, although the nature of this dark matter remains undetermined.
The characteristics of the resulting star depend primarily upon its starting mass. The more massive the star, the greater its luminosity, and the more rapidly it fuses its hydrogen fuel into helium in its core. Over time, this hydrogen fuel is completely converted into helium, and the star begins to evolve. The fusion of helium requires a higher core temperature. A star with a high enough core temperature will push its outer layers outward while increasing its core density. The resulting red giant formed by the expanding outer layers enjoys a brief life span, before the helium fuel in the core is in turn consumed. Very massive stars can also undergo a series of evolutionary phases, as they fuse increasingly heavier elements.
The final fate of the star depends on its mass, with stars of mass greater than about eight times the Sun becoming core collapse supernovae; while smaller stars blow off their outer layers and leave behind the inert core in the form of a white dwarf. The ejection of the outer layers forms a planetary nebula. The remnant of a supernova is a dense neutron star, or, if the stellar mass was at least three times that of the Sun, a black hole. Closely orbiting binary stars can follow more complex evolutionary paths, such as mass transfer onto a white dwarf companion that can potentially cause a supernova. Planetary nebulae and supernovae distribute the "metals" produced in the star by fusion to the interstellar medium; without them, all new stars (and their planetary systems) would be formed from hydrogen and helium alone.
At a distance of about eight light-minutes, the most frequently studied star is the
sunspot cycle. This is an 11-year oscillation in sunspot number. Sunspots are regions of lower-than- average temperatures that are associated with intense magnetic activity.
The Sun has steadily increased in luminosity by 40% since it first became a main-sequence star. The Sun has also undergone periodic changes in luminosity that can have a significant impact on the Earth.
The visible outer surface of the Sun is called the
At the center of the Sun is the core region, a volume of sufficient temperature and pressure for nuclear fusion to occur. Above the core is the radiation zone, where the plasma conveys the energy flux by means of radiation. Above that is the convection zone where the gas material transports energy primarily through physical displacement of the gas known as convection. It is believed that the movement of mass within the convection zone creates the magnetic activity that generates sunspots.
A solar wind of plasma particles constantly streams outward from the Sun until, at the outermost limit of the Solar System, it reaches the
Planetary science is the study of the assemblage of planets, moons, dwarf planets, comets, asteroids, and other bodies orbiting the Sun, as well as extrasolar planets. The Solar System has been relatively well-studied, initially through telescopes and then later by spacecraft. This has provided a good overall understanding of the formation and evolution of the Sun's planetary system, although many new discoveries are still being made.
Once a planet reaches sufficient mass, the materials of different densities segregate within, during planetary differentiation. This process can form a stony or metallic core, surrounded by a mantle and an outer crust. The core may include solid and liquid regions, and some planetary cores generate their own magnetic field, which can protect their atmospheres from solar wind stripping.
A planet or moon's interior heat is produced from the collisions that created the body, by the decay of radioactive materials (e.g.uranium, thorium, and 26Al), or tidal heating caused by interactions with other bodies. Some planets and moons accumulate enough heat to drive geologic processes such as volcanism and tectonics. Those that accumulate or retain an atmosphere can also undergo surface erosion from wind or water. Smaller bodies, without tidal heating, cool more quickly; and their geological activity ceases with the exception of impact cratering.
Astronomy and astrophysics have developed significant interdisciplinary links with other major scientific fields. Archaeoastronomy is the study of ancient or traditional astronomies in their cultural context, utilizing archaeological and anthropological evidence. Astrobiology is the study of the advent and evolution of biological systems in the Universe, with particular emphasis on the possibility of non-terrestrial life. Astrostatistics is the application of statistics to astrophysics to the analysis of a vast amount of observational astrophysical data.
The study of
chemicals found in space, including their formation, interaction and destruction, is called astrochemistry. These substances are usually found in molecular clouds, although they may also appear in low-temperature stars, brown dwarfs and planets. Cosmochemistry is the study of the chemicals found within the Solar System, including the origins of the elements and variations in the isotope ratios. Both of these fields represent an overlap of the disciplines of astronomy and chemistry. As "forensic astronomy
", finally, methods from astronomy have been used to solve problems of law and history.
Amateur astronomers can build their own equipment, and hold star parties and gatherings, such as Stellafane
Astronomy is one of the sciences to which amateurs can contribute the most.
Collectively, amateur astronomers observe a variety of celestial objects and phenomena sometimes with consumer-level equipment or equipment that they build themselves. Common targets of amateur astronomers include the Sun, the Moon, planets, stars, comets, meteor showers, and a variety of deep-sky objects such as star clusters, galaxies, and nebulae. Astronomy clubs are located throughout the world and many have programs to help their members set up and complete observational programs including those to observe all the objects in the Messier (110 objects) or Herschel 400 catalogues of points of interest in the night sky. One branch of amateur astronomy, astrophotography, involves the taking of photos of the night sky. Many amateurs like to specialize in the observation of particular objects, types of objects, or types of events that interest them.
Most amateurs work at visible wavelengths, but many experiment with wavelengths outside the visible spectrum. This includes the use of infrared filters on conventional telescopes, and also the use of radio telescopes. The pioneer of amateur radio astronomy was Karl Jansky, who started observing the sky at radio wavelengths in the 1930s. A number of amateur astronomers use either homemade telescopes or use radio telescopes which were originally built for astronomy research but which are now available to amateurs (e.g. the One-Mile Telescope).
Amateur astronomers continue to make scientific contributions to the field of astronomy and it is one of the few scientific disciplines where amateurs can still make significant contributions. Amateurs can make occultation measurements that are used to refine the orbits of minor planets. They can also discover comets, and perform regular observations of variable stars. Improvements in digital technology have allowed amateurs to make impressive advances in the field of astrophotography.
Although the scientific discipline of astronomy has made tremendous strides in understanding the nature of the Universe and its contents, there remain some important unanswered questions. Answers to these may require the construction of new ground- and space-based instruments, and possibly new developments in theoretical and experimental physics.
What is the origin of the stellar mass spectrum? That is, why do astronomers observe the same distribution of stellar masses—the
Is there other life in the Universe? Especially, is there other intelligent life? If so, what is the explanation for the Fermi paradox? The existence of life elsewhere has important scientific and philosophical implications.
from the original on 17 August 2021. Retrieved 4 November 2020.
^"Dark matter". NASA. 2010. Archived from the original on 30 October 2009. Retrieved 2 November 2009. third paragraph, "There is currently much ongoing research by scientists attempting to discover exactly what this dark matter is"
, [Astrophysics] is closely allied on the one hand to astronomy, of which it may properly be classed as a branch, and on the other hand to chemistry and physics.… It seeks to ascertain the nature of the heavenly bodies, rather than their positions or motions in space—what they are, rather than where they are.… That which is perhaps most characteristic of astrophysics is the special prominence which it gives to the study of radiation.