Gazing At The Stars

First Created March 24, 2004

Gazing At The Stars

American Military University
SC104, Introduction to Astronomy


Dictionary.com defines astronomy as:

The scientific study of matter in outer space, especially the positions, dimensions, distribution, motion, composition, energy, and evolution of celestial bodies and phenomena.

This definition is fine as far as it goes. Astronomy, while definitely a science, is also an extension of man’s natural curiousity and eternal quest for knowledge about his origins. As such, it is so much more than science. In this sense, science is the vehicle, and the continuing quest for answers to age-old questions is the voyage. For as long as man has been sentient, he has gazed at the stars in wonder. Some of the questions asked by generation after generation of stargazers are as follows:

  • What is out there?
  • Where did we come from?
  • Where are we going?
  • Is there life out there?

Let’s start with the first question, “what is out there?” Well, put simply – lots and lots of various gases, radiation, dust, etc. for starters. Sprinkle in some planets, debris, asteroids, comets, blackholes and stars, etc. and then combine them into solar sytems and galaxies and you’ve got yourself a universe. An interesting discussion on this topic is available here. To get started, I recommend a short, easy to follow description of our own solar system, courtesy of The Nine Planets. Also, I’ve written short summaries on a variety of objects in our own solar system:

The next question, “where did we come from?” is, of course, the biggest one of all. Putting aside theological considerations, the answer boils down to one word – energy. We are all made of the same basic materials as the planets and the stars and computer screen you are using to view this page. Our combinations and quantities differ, but the construct is based on the same plan – combinations of energy and matter. For more, click here and here.

The next question, “where are we going?” is an interesting one, which can only be answered through continued study of the stars, planets, movements of the galaxies, etc. While our planet is orbiting the sun, our solar system is flying through space, along with the rest of our galaxy – The Milky Way. Everything is spinning, orbiting, rotating and otherwise moving. For an interesting prediction of how this galaxy will meet its end, click here and here. Further, you can view two galaxies in the midst of combining into one at this link.

Finally, “is there life out there?” Well, that answer remains elusive for the time being. With the discovery of an ancient seabed on Mars, the answer to that question seems likely to be yes. Of course, life can take many forms, from the simplest microscopic bacteria to that of a complex mammal, such as a human being. I believe that eventually we will find life among the stars. The question is when, and what kind of life we will discover. Visit this website for a good primer on the topic.

We study the stars to further our scientific knowledge of the universe around us. We study the stars to find our place in the universe. We study the stars because we can.


Astronomy Links

Classmates from SC104 – Introduction to Astronomy

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