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Astronomy Basics

Astronomy (Greek: astronomia = astron + nomos, literally, "law of the stars") is the science involving the observation and explanation of events occurring beyond the Earth and its atmosphere. It studies the origins, evolution, and physical and chemical properties of objects that may be observed in the sky (and are beyond the atmosphere), as well as the connected processes and phenomena.

Astronomy is one of the few sciences where amateurs can still play an active role, especially in the discovery and monitoring of transient phenomena. Astronomy is not to be confused with astrology, which assumes that people's destiny and human affairs in general are correlated to the apparent positions of astronomical objects in the sky -- although the two fields share a common origin, they are quite different; astronomers embrace the scientific method, while astrologers do not.


Divisions of Astronomy
In ancient Greece and other early civilizations, astronomy consisted largely of astrometry, measuring positions of stars and planets in the sky. Later, the work of Kepler and Newton paved the way for celestial mechanics, mathematically predicting the motions of celestial bodies interacting under gravity, and solar system objects in particular. Much of the effort in these two areas, once done largely by hand, is highly automated nowadays, to the extent that they are rarely considered as independent disciplines anymore. Motions and positions of objects are now more easily determined, and modern astronomy concerns itself much more with trying to observe and understand the actual physical nature of celestial objects—what makes them "tick".

Ever since the twentieth century the field of professional astronomy has tended to split into observational astronomy and theoretical astrophysics. Although most astronomers incorporate elements of both into their research, because of the different skills involved, most professional astronomers tend to specialize in one or the other. Observational astronomy is concerned mostly with acquiring data, which involves building and maintaining instruments and processing the resulting information; this branch is at times referred to as "astrometry" or simply as "astronomy". Theoretical astrophysics is concerned mainly with figuring out the observational implications of different models, and involves working with computer or analytic models.

The fields of study can also be categorized in other ways. Categorization by the region of space under study (for example, Galactic astronomy, Planetary Sciences); by subject, such as star formation or cosmology; or by the method used for obtaining information.

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