A Crash Course on Astronomy

The Night Sky

A brief glimpse of the twinkling and shimmering wonders of the night sky is enough to trigger a deep interest in the field of astronomy. When the astronomy bug bites, you may find yourself wanting to see and discover more and to investigate the mysteries of the universe.

Whether you’re a casual stargazer or intend to become a serious amateur astronomy, an understanding of the basics of the basics of the universe is essential. Below is an introduction to astronomy plus some crash courses and resources to deepen your theoretical knowledge of the cosmos.

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What is Astronomy?

In simple words, astronomy is the study of the stars, the planets, and space. It’s the study of everything beyond the earth’s atmosphere. Everything here means objects, phenomena, events, and even the universe itself.

Astronomy is an interdisciplinary field that makes use of other sciences including physics, math, computer science, biology, and chemistry to explain the universe.

As you can see, the field of astronomy is quite broad. It’s only natural that it’s divided into a number of sub-fields as follows.

The Two Types of Astronomy

First off, astronomy is split into two branches:

Observational astronomy entails the study of celestial objects and phenomena using instruments such as optical, X-ray and gamma ray telescopes and then using the fundamentals of physics to analyze the observations.

The other branch of astronomy is theoretical astronomy, which is all about using analytical models and computer systems to explain astronomical phenomena.

These two fields complement each other. Theoretical astronomy seeks to explain what is observed while observational astronomy serves to test, fine-tune, and confirm theoretical models.

The Different Subjects in Astronomy?

  • Astrophysics: Studies the physics and behavior of the universe. It’s very similar to professional astronomy and the terms astronomy and astrophysics are sometimes used interchangeably.
  • Solar astronomy: Is dedicated to analyzing the sun, the star at the center of our solar system.
  • Planetary Sciences: This entails the study of both the planets in our solar system as well as the exoplanets that exist outside the solar system and orbit other stars. The comets and asteroids are also studied within this domain.
  • Stellar Astronomy: Stellar astronomers focus on the physical and chemical processes that happen in the universe. It entails the study of stars, black holes, nebulae, and supernova.
  • Instrumentation: The design and building of telescopes and other astronomical instruments.
  • Astrostatistics: The analysis of astronomical data using statistical methods, data science, and machine learning.
  • Astrobiology: This field entails the investigation of the possibility of life somewhere else besides Earth.
  • Galactic Astronomy: Like the name hints, this field of astronomy explores the structure and components of galaxies. This includes our Galaxy the Milky Way as well as other galaxies in the universe.
  • Cosmology: Cosmologists study the universe itself, from its origin in the Big Bang to its evolution to how and when it might end. Cosmology also entails the study of the mysterious forces of dark matter and dark energy.

What About Amateur Astronomy and Astrology?

Thanks to amateur astronomy, anyone with an interest in the night sky and a decent telescope or a set of binoculars can contribute to our understanding of the Cosmos. What makes astronomy a good hobby is that there are no prerequisite skills and both visual astronomy telescopes and astro-photography telescopes are accessibly priced.

Astrology is a practice that uses astronomical observations to predict behavior and future events. Up until the Age of reason, astrology and astronomy were considered to be one and the same thing. Astrology, was however demoted to a pseudo science when its predictions could not be proved scientifically.

Learn the differences between astronomy and astrology

Everything in the Universe is in Motion

We’re ever flying through space at mind boggling speed as the Earth, our spaceship, spins on its own axis and also revolves around the sun. The sun is also not stationary. The entire solar system is orbiting around the center our galaxy, the Milky Way which is also in motion.

Gravity is the force that keeps us grounded on earth instead of flying off to space. So how do rockets manage to leave the Earth? They shoot up so fast that they reach the escape velocity required to overcome the Earth’s gravitational pull.

We Don’t See Everything in Space

The planets and stars we can see with our naked eyes or through optical telescopes reflect or bounce visible electromagnetic radiation (or light in simple terms). However, our eyes cannot detect all spectrums of electromagnetic radiation.

For objects in space that are emitting or reflecting invisible light, we need microwave, x-ray, and gamma-ray telescopes. Still, there are stuff in the universe that not even these special instruments can reveal.

These mysterious phenomena are referred to as dark matter and dark energy. Dark matter has a gravitational pull that astronomers can detect while dark energy possesses a force opposite to gravity. It pushes matters apart.

The History of Astronomy

Astronomy is one of the oldest sciences. It’s as old as the human race. The first human beings to occupy the Earth were as intrigued by the night sky as we’re today. Even though they didn’t have sophisticated instruments like we have today, they still managed to discover some planets and constellations.

The invention of the telescope ushered in the era of modern astronomy. For this reason, Galileo Galilei, the man who invented the telescope, is considered the father of modern observational astronomy.

Read more about the history of astronomy from the prehistoric days to the modern times.

Where to Study Astronomy Online: Astronomy Crash Courses

If you’re curious about the scope of astronomy, the following crash courses offer a quick way to satisfy your curiosity and expand your understanding of the universe. And if you’re looking to dive deeper into space, they are also a great starting point.

Video Astronomy Crash Courses by Phil Plait

Understand astronomy with a series of short videos, each covering a specific topic. The courses are short and engaging. Here is the first video to introduce you to the world of astronomy.

Other Astronomy Crash Courses Online

  • Coursera: Hundreds of thousands have undertaken astronomy related courses via Coursera and left stellar reviews. These courses are offered by some of the best universities in the world from Princeton to Stanford to the University of Tokyo. The subjects are just as diverse ranging from the Big Bang to the mysterious forces of dark matter and dark energy.
  • Udemy: You will find all kinds of short courses here from introduction to astronomy to how to make the most of a telescope to getting started in UFO studies. All the courses have user reviews you can read to determine what to expect.
  • EDX has free online courses and classes in astronomy, astrophysics, and other space subjects. These are high-quality courses offered by top institutions. 
  • MIT Open Courseware Crash course in astronomy will introduce you to the physics of the solar system, the stars, the interstellar medium, the galaxy, and the universe in general.

That’s a Wrap!

There you have a variety of astronomy crash courses you can pursue whether your interest lies in the universe as a whole, or you’re intrigued by the mysteries of dark matter and aliens, or fascinated by the search for aliens.

Most of them are short courses that only take a couple of hours to complete. With only an hour a day, you can amass serious knowledge of the universe!