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Observational Astronomy - More than Meets the Eye

Observational astronomy is one of many different divisions of the science of astronomy. You see, astronomy is a huge topic. In order to make it easier for people to learn about, astronomy is divided into many smaller categories. This particular category of astronomy has to do with objects and events in space that we can see, observe, and record. Collecting information like this helps us learn more about space and the Universe.

There are many different ways of observing in astronomy

One of the ways we can observe events and objects in space is with our eyes. You are actually participating in observational astronomy whenever you gaze up at the night sky. Especially if you’ve ever tried to pick out a constellation among all the stars and planets you see.

The naked eye

I know it’s hard to believe, but an instrument like the telescope hasn’t always been around to help us look at the sky and observe the stars. Before the invention and use of the telescope, early astronomers like Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler had to rely on their eyes and their good eyesight to study and record information about the stars and astronomy. In fact, Kepler’s laws of planetary motion came from information collected by systematically observing the heavens with the naked eye. Actually, we know that people from various ancient cultures observed the heavens with nothing but the naked eye for thousands of years. Ancient stone formations like Stonehenge were built by these civilizations for the purpose of telling time by tracking the movements of the Sun.

Observational astronomy – the telescope is developed

The discovery and development of the telescope made observing the heavens a much easier thing to do and you could see a lot more with a telescope than you could with the naked eye alone. Hans Lippershey is credited with developing the first telescope, but he didn’t use it to study the heavens. That honor belongs to Galileo. Galileo Galilei was the first person to use a telescope to look at the night sky. What he saw through it must have amazed him!

There are different categories of observational astronomy

Yep that’s right, even this one category of astronomy is further divided into smaller categories. There are four major divisions :
  • Optical astronomy – this area of astronomy uses optical tools like mirrors, lenses, and such to observe light in various wavelengths, including visible light. Visible light astronomy is in this category too.
  • Infrared astronomy – this area of astronomy is concerned with studying and detecting what’s known as infrared radiation.
  • Radio astronomy – this area of astronomy uses receivers similar to a radio transmission to detect very sensitive wavelengths of radiation
  • High energy astronomy – this area of astronomy covers the study of gamma-ray astronomy and x-ray astronomy. Observational astronomy includes whatever part of space can be detected, measured and studied. Not just the parts that can be seen with the naked eye. Even though you can see a lot of space with just your eyes and a telescope, you know now that there’s more to the study of astronomy and space than meets the eye!

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