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Discussion of the Field of Astronomy

Astronomy is the oldest science, with the first observations of the heavens conducted by our early human ancestors. Historical records of astronomical measurements date back as far as Mesopotamia nearly 5000 years ago, with later observations made by the ancient Chinese, Babylonians, and Greeks. Humans seek to explain their world with (internal) models; one of the earliest is that the affairs of humans and the world are controlled by the positions of the stars and planets. Although astrology is now regarded as a psuedoscience, it was the original motivation for the mapping of the stars and the assignment of constellations.

Astronomy is more than simply a mapping of stars and planets into outlines of gods and magical creatures. It is the scientific study of the contents of entire Universe – stars, planets, comets, asteroids, galaxies, and space and time – as well as its history. Astronomers might ask themselves questions like:
  • Is the Universe expanding, shrinking, or unchanging?
  • Does the Universe have a beginning? An end?
  • How much matter is there in the Universe?
  • What are stars and how are they “born” and how do they “die”?
  • How are planets formed?
  • How are galaxies formed?
  • What are comets and what is their composition?
  • Are there other planets besides the ones in our solar system, and if so, do any of them harbor life?

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