Astronomy is a growing discipline, with more and more powerful instruments pointed at the night sky to gather data about distant planets and stars. But what is astronomy, exactly?
Derived from the Greek astron, or “star”, and nomos, meaning “law,” astronomy is the study of matter and bodies that lie beyond the Earth's atmosphere. This can include everything from the planets and stars to comets, meteors, and less concrete concepts such as dark matter and black holes. Astronomy studies the movement and interactions of these object and substances, using physics, mathematics, chemistry and other disciplines to evaluate data gathered via direct and indirect observation. Astronomers have discovered much about our universe through this complex scientific observation.
History of Astronomy
Astronomy has been practiced in one form or another since the beginning of recorded history, and probably even before. It is theorized that prehistoric architecture such as standing stones and ziggurats were built based on astronomical principles. Many ancient dwellings, particularly religious temples, are built to take advantage of astronomical phenomena such as the solstices and equinoxes.
Ancient astronomy was based on religious principles, and astronomical observations were used to predict the future as well as to make note of important events such as eclipses. Observations of the stars and planets also helped these ancient cultures formulate calendars both to measure the passage of time and to determine the occurrence of religious observances. Many of the functions of astronomy in ancient history would be referred to as astrology in today's terms, since, like most ancient science, it was inextricably intertwined with religious practice.
As the concept of scientific observation began to separate from mythology and religion, astronomy emerged as a scientific endeavor. As technology advanced, more and more accurate observations became possible, leading to new theories and our modern understanding of the structure and workings of the universe.
Today's astronomy is highly sophisticated, benefiting from technological advances such as high-powered telescopes, as well as increased scientific knowledge that allows astronomers to predict the existence of far-distant planets, black holes, dark matter, and other objects and substances that cannot be directly viewed or proven.