To Look at the Stars:
An Excursion in Astronomy
You might say there is a need inside everyone to connect to the rest of the universe. Amateur and professional astronomers alike gaze up into the heavens simply to observe what can be found there. Astronomy, academically and professionally, is the study and observation of the universe( it's stars, planets, moons, galaxies, etc.) as well as the theories surrounding it's many components. According to a popular television show on the Science Channel, Through The Worm Hole, as narrated by Morgan Freeman(2010) astronomy and biology have come together in the pursuit of finding water and life on planets other than our own. With the technological advances in modern times and the sheer vastness of the cosmos, now is an interesting time to explore the dimensions of the structure and chaos from whence we came.
"On the observational side, by far the most important development has been the measurement of fluctuations in the cosmic microwave background radiation by COBE (the Cosmic Background Explorer satellite) and other collaborations. These fluctuations are the fingerprints of creation, the tiny initial irregularities in the otherwise smooth and uniform early universe that later grew into galaxies, stars, and all of the structures we see around us. Their form agrees with the predictions of the proposal that the universe has no boundaries or edges in imaginary time direction. . ." (Stephen Hawking, The Illustrated A Brief History of Time / The Universe In A Nutshell, 2008)
It was once believed that our universe existed in stagnation. Creation was merely a topic for theologians until 1929, when Edwin Hubble would change the perspective of science forever in observing that galaxies at a vast distance were moving away from us quickly. Thus began the theory that the universe is expanding into infinite space from a time where it's contents were at exactly the same point and essentially, infinite density (History of the Universe, pp. 13-14).
In the years of World War II a need for experimentation to facilitate observational needs spawned a "rapid development of technology" which gave opportunity to the astronomical community through radio waves. Relying on optical telescopes limited the availability of knowledge to early astronomers. Physics joined astronomy in the current ability to observe our universe from unfathomable distances (Giacconi, 2005).
Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of astronomy is with the inclusion of biology, known as astrobiology. Astrobiology is the study of living organisms and the pursuit of terrestrial intelligence in the universe (Giacconi, 2005). Recent discoveries using NASA’s Infrared Telescope facility show that the life on our planet, that is, the water, may have derived from asteroids and comets. Asteroid 24, known as Thetis, located 279 miles from the sun was observed on seven instances showing the infrared signatures of organic carbon-based materials and water ice. The men responsible for this discovery are Joshua Emery of the University of Tennessee and Andrew Rivkin of Johns Hopkins University and they claim this information plays a role in our history as well as our future in that asteroids may be paving the way today for” interplanet” communication tomorrow. Or perhaps they already have (Andrews, 2010).
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization announced their plans in January of 2009 to launch The International Year of Astronomy mid-month with several programs to both educate interested parties as well as promote an interest among the masses. This recognition reads loud and clear the importance stressed by a global organization on the education of astronomy for the world (US Federal News, Dateline, 2009).
"The Year coincides with the 400th anniversary of Galileo's first observations with an astronomical telescope. It is an opportunity for people all over the world to rediscover their place in the universe by observing the sky at night and during the day. It is also intended to provide a platform for informing the public about recent discoveries in astronomy, while demonstrating the central role that astronomy can play in science education." (UNESCO Statement Release, Dateline, 2009)
In the course descriptions of the registration portion of the APUS campus for Introduction to Astronomy and Introduction to Astronomy Lab I was informed I would be given the chance to study the history of early astronomy and astronomers as well as an in-depth look of the components of the universe(stars, planets, moons, galaxies, etc). Also included in the curricula are the theories of quantum physics such as black holes and time travel (n.d).
Due to the volume of sale of his famed publications, Stephen Hawking is arguably the most recognizable figure in Astronomy of our time. Hawking was even referenced in a dirty joke in the 2008 Judd Apatow film Knocked Up. In the illustrated hard-back edition of the combined works A Brief History of Time and The Universe in a Nutshell Hawking relays how the advances in science via Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton and Galileo Galilei have shaped our present view on the cosmos, their theories as well as his own and what we have since come to call fact as well as what has yet to be either proven or disproven.
To pursue astronomy could lead to many things. In astrophysics one might use current collected data to further advance the reaches of our observational abilities. In astrobiology one might observe several solar systems in search of water and/or biological organisms. There is always the possibility of space exploration with satellites, research and publication is an option, and then there's also teaching. Whatever the outcome, one in pursuit of astronomy has the rare chance to be a part of something with a magnitude much grander than our own thriving planet.
In conclusion, and perhaps in response to that something deep down desperate to connect to totality, I look forward to what an Introduction to Astronomy and Introduction to Astronomy Lab in December will lay out before me. Will I be captured by the fascinations of the cosmos? I suppose you could say I already am.
Andrews, B.. "Water and organic compounds found on asteroid. " Astronomy 1 Aug. 2010: Research Library, ProQuest. Web. 22 Aug. 2010.
Giacconi, Riccardo. International Journal of Modern Physics A: Particles & Fields; Gravitation; Cosmology; Nuclear Physics, 7/20/2003, Vol. 18 Issue 18, p3127, 23p. Database: Academic Search Premier. Web. 17 Aug. 2010.
Giacconi, Riccardo. “Annual Review of Astronomy & Astrophysics”, 2005, Vol. 43 Issue 1, p1-30
Academic Search Premier. Web. 17 Aug. 2010.
Hawking, Stephen. The Illustrated A Brief History of Time / The Universe In A Nutshell. 2008: Bantam. Print. 17 Aug. 2010.
"LAUNCH OF UNESCO INTERNATIONAL YEAR OF ASTRONOMY. " US Fed News Service, Including US State News 9 Jan. 2009,Research Library, ProQuest. Web. 22 Aug. 2010.
“Alien Communication.” Through The Wormhole. Nar. Morgan Freeman. 22 July 2010. The Science Channel. http://science.discovery.com/videos/through-the-wormhole-is-alien-life-possible.html Web. 17 Aug. 2010.
APUS Course descriptions: Introduction to Astronomy & Introduction to Astronomy Lab. apus.edu/. n.d. Web. 17 Aug 2010.