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Astonomy is one of the oldest sciences known to man. Almost since the beginning of time (or recorded history, as we know it) humans have been fascinated with the solar system’s stars, moons, asteroids, comets, planets and minor planets. Astronomers of ancient civilizations were very patient in their methodical observations of the planets and stars, but it took the invention of the telescope for astronomy to make the leap into a modern science. Historically, astronomy has been divided into astronomy, celestial navigation, observational astronomy, the making of calendars and astrology (although astrology later diverged into its’ own field.) It is defined as “the study of objects and matter outside the earth’s atmosphere and of their physical and chemical properties.“ Today, professional astronomy is considered synonymous with astrophysics, which is defined as “the study of the physics of the universe, including the luminosity, density, temperature and chemical composition of celestial objects like stars, galaxies and the interstellar medium.” In practice, astronomy involves a substantial amount of physics and either term can be used to refer to the subject.

Early astronomy consisted mostly of mapping the positions of the stars and planets, a science now known as astrometry. From these observations, it was generally believed that the Earth was the center of the universe, with the Sun, Moon and stars rotating around it. A few early discoveries were made, but with the invention of the telescope came great advances in astronomy. The first telescope is credited to German-Dutch lensmaker, Hans Lippershey in 1608. The professional field of astronomy split into two fields beginning in the 20th century - the observational and theoretical branches of astronomy. Observational astronomy focuses on acquiring and analyzing data, using basic principles of physics. Theoretical astronomy is generally considered the development of computer or analytical models to describe astronomical objects and phenomena.

There are many, many subfields of astronomy. These include: radio astronomy, infrared astronomy, optical astronomy, ultraviolet astronomy, x-ray astronomy and gamma-ray astronomy. In addition, the following are subfields of astronomy for specific astronomical objects: solar astronomy, planetary science, stellar astronomy, galactic astronomy, extragalactic astronomy and cosmology. For those interested in a career in astronomy, a doctoral degree is required, generally with astronomy as a major and undergraduate opportunities for research. Astronomers are “problem solvers” with a lot of math and computer skills. Jobs include positions on the faculty of a college or university, teaching or research, or at a research institution.


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