The stars have always been a fascinating subject. Perhaps that’s one reason why astronomy is so popular these days.
In essence, Astronomy isn’t just about studying stars, as most people think. It’s actually a study of celestial objects, which includes not only stars but also planets, comets and entire galaxies. In fact, Astronomy also studies different phenomena that come from outside of the earth’s atmosphere, such as auroras and cosmic background radiation.
In addition, Astronomy, is concerned with a host of other sciences, including physics, evolution, chemistry, how celestial objects move and how the universe was formed and developed. Scientists routinely use Astronomy to test some of the most fundamental theories in physics, such as general relativity. In attempting to explain astronomical phenomena, astronomy joins hands with astrophysics.
Overall, Astronomy is among the oldest sciences known to mankind. Records show that there were astronomers dating back to the days of ancient Greece and India. This is probably where advanced observation techniques originated. In addition, the scientific history of man shows how many amateur astronomers have contributed and played an active role in observing and discovering what is referred to as transient phenomena.
With the dawn of the 20th century, Astronomy was divided into two sciences. These are observational astronomy and theoretical astrophysics. The first one is concerned with getting data and this involves building and maintaining a host of different instruments as well as processing the results of the data it acquires. There are some who refer to this branch of science as “astrometry” or simply as “astronomy”. On the other hand, theoretical astrophysics has to do with ascertaining the implications that can be observed through a computer or through analytical models.
There are those who confuse modern astronomy with astrology but they are two very different things. Astrology revolves around a belief system that presupposes that the different positions of celestial objects have a direct bearing on human affairs. In a nutshell, it is fortune telling with the aid of the stars. Astronomy and astrology obviously share the same common origins but most scientists and other knowledgeable observers know that both fields are clearly distinct.
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* (October 1, 2012) Leonard Susskind introduces some of the building blocks of general relativity including proper notation and tensor analysis.
This series is the fourth installment of a six-quarter series that explore the foundations of modern physics. In this quarter, Susskind focuses on Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity.
Stanford Continuing Studies Program:
Stanford University Channel on YouTube:
General Relativity Lecture 2