What is Astronomy?
Who hasn't felt a sense of awe while looking deep into the sky, lit with countless stars on a clear night? Who hasn't asked themselves if ours is the only planet that supports life? Who hasn't pondered the nature of the planets, stars, galaxies, and the Universe itself? Astronomy is a science that seeks to explain everything that we observe in the Universe, from the comets and planets in our own solar system to distant galaxies to the echoes of the Big Bang. By studying the cosmos beyond our own planet, we can understand where we came from, where we are going, and how physics works under conditions which are impossible to recreate on Earth. In astronomy, the Universe is our laboratory!
How Astronomy Benefits Society and Humankind
With an annual cost of $30.8 million, the Keck Observatory costs $53.7 thousand for a single night’s worth of operation. It will cost the James Webb Space Telescope approximately $8.8 billion to reach orbit. And the Space Launch System that will carry the Orion capsule is expected to cost $38 billion. Why should we be spending such a vast amount of money on astronomy? How is it useful and beneficial to society? Astronomers face this question on a daily basis. Recently a ream of European astronomers have provided tangible answers relating advancements in astronomy to advancements in industry, aerospace, energy, medicine, international collaboration, everyday life and humankind.
“I get this question quite often,” Dr. Marissa Rosenberg, lead author on the paper, told Universe Today. “One very personal reason for writing this article is that I wanted to share with my parents (both business people) why what I am doing is important and a necessary facet of society.”
Today, millions of people across the world are affected by advances in astronomy.
— Space-based telescopes have advanced defense satellites, which require identical technology and hardware.
— Global Positioning System satellites rely on astronomical objects — quasars and distant galaxies — to determine accurate positions.
— Technology gained from imaging X-rays is now used to monitor fusion — where two atomic nuclei combine to form a heavier nucleus — that may prove to be our answer for clean energy.
Astronomy struggles to see increasingly faint objects; Medicine struggles to see things obscured within the human body.
— Aperture synthesis — the process of combining data from multiple telescopes to produce a single image seemingly created from a telescope the size of the entire collection — first developed by a radio astronomer has been used for multiple medical imaging tools, including CAT scanners and MR
— Collaboration also inspires competition. The Space Race — a competition between the Soviet Union and the United States for supremacy in space exploration — landed Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin on the moon.
“Perhaps the most important reason to study astronomy is that astronomy seeks to satisfy our fundamental curiosity about the world we live in, and answer the ‘big’ questions,” Dr. Rosenberg told Universe Today. “How was the universe created? Where did we come from? Are there other intelligent life forms?”.Every advance in astronomy moves society closer to being able to answer these questions. With advanced technology — increasingly complex CCDs and larger ground- and space-based telescopes — we have peered into the distant, early universe, we have searched for habitable worlds, and we have come to the conclusion that we, ourselves, are stardust.
“Astronomy constantly reminds people of two seemingly contradictory things. First that the universe is infinite and we are of but the tiniest fraction of importance. And Second that life is rare and precious. A home as beautiful and unique as earth does not come often. We must protect it.”
An upcoming version of this paper will not only cover the tangible aspects of astronomy discussed here, but also the intangible aspects of astronomy.