So What is Astronomy?
I’ve been asked this question a lot over the years and I usually reply by saying the science of astronomy is more than learning a whole lot about stars. Astronomy actually comprises many different ways to look at the universe. At its simplest, astronomy is observation. You go out each night, look up at the sky and notice the star patterns, the planets, and the Moon… (if visible). But, astronomy also helps us understand how the objects we see formed. It answers questions such as “How are stars formed?” “How do stars end?” “Where do planets come from?” “How far away are the objects we see?” “How do galaxies form?” “When did it all begin?”
Astronomy is an ancient science – perhaps the first one humans invented. The names of stars come to us from ancient history. The constellations are ones that people have seen for thousands of years, and each culture made up stories about those star patterns.
To study faraway objects, people invented telescopes that extend our vision so that we can see dim, distant objects. You can start extending your own vision simply by using a pair of binoculars in your own backyard. They magnify the view and let you see things you can’t quite make out with your naked eye. If you want to see farther out to space, you need a telescope. Or, you can browse the Web to see what professional astronomers are finding out at the limits of the observable universe.
Astronomy is a very visual science and one that everyone can enjoy, even without knowing much of the science. So how do you “do astronomy”? The first step is simply to go out and look up. If you have a star chart, a pair of binoculars, or even an astronomy app on your smart phone you have at your fingertips incredibly powerful tools to help you explore on your own. So get out there and do some astronomy.