photo of moon

What is the Purpose of Astronomy? Expanding Our Knowledge of the Universe.

It is a Fundamental Part of Being Human.

Humans have looked to the sky to navigate the vast oceans. It is a purpose of astronomy that opens our eyes and gives context to our place in the Universe. And can reshape how we see the world. Decide when to plant their crops, and answer questions about where we came from and how we got here. 

When Copernicus claimed that Earth was not the center of the Universe, it triggered a revolution. A revolution through which religion, science, and society had to adapt to this new worldview.

Astronomy has always had a significant impact on our worldview. Early cultures identified celestial objects with the gods and took their movements across the sky as prophecies. We would now call this astrology. Far removed from the hard facts and expensive instruments of today’s astronomy, it’s part of history in modern astronomy. 

Take, for example, the names of the constellations: Andromeda. The chained maiden of Greek mythology, or Perseus, the demi-god who saved her.

Understanding Our Place in Space.

As our understanding of the world progresses, we find ourselves and our world’s view even more entwined with the stars. The discovery of the essential elements we see in stars and the gas and dust around them. These are the same elements that make up our bodies has further deepened the connection between us and the cosmos. This connection touches our lives. The awe it inspires is why the beautiful images astronomy provides us with are so prevalent in today’s culture.

purpose of astronomy
Beautiful images astronomy

Questions in Astronomy

There are still many unanswered questions in astronomy. Current research is struggling to understand questions like: 

“How old are we?”, 

“What is the fate of the Universe?” 

And possibly the most interesting: 

“How unique is the Universe, and could a slightly different Universe ever have supported life?” 

However, astronomy also breaks new records daily, establishing the furthest distances, most massive objects, highest temperatures, and most explosions.

Pursuing these questions is a fundamental part of being human. In today’s world, it has become increasingly important to be able to justify the pursuit of the answers. The difficulties in describing the importance of astronomy, and fundamental research in general, are well summarized by the following quote:

“Preserving knowledge is easy. Transferring knowledge is also easy. But making new knowledge is neither easy nor profitable in the short term. Fundamental research proves profitable in the long run, and, as importantly, it is a force that enriches the culture of any society with reason and basic truth.”

– Ahmed Zewali, winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry (1999).

Although we live in a world faced with the many immediate problems of hunger, poverty, energy, and global warming, we argue that astronomy has long-term benefits equally crucial to a civilized society. 

Science Education

Several studies have told us that investing in science education, research, and technology provides an excellent economic return and culturally and indirectly for the population in general. It has helped countries to face and overcome crises. 

A country or region’s scientific and technological development is closely linked to its human development index — a statistic that measures life expectancy, education, and income (Truman, 1949).

Other works have answered the question, “Why is astronomy important?” Dr. Robert Aitken, director of Lick Observatory, shows us that even in 1933, there was a need to justify our science in his paper entitled The Use of Astronomy (Aitken, 1933). 

His last sentence summarizes his sentiment: “To give man more knowledge of the universe and to help him ‘to learn humility and to know exaltation,’ that is the mission of astronomy.” 

Dr. Robert Aitken 1933

More recently, C. Renée James wrote an article outlining the technological advances we can thank for astronomy, GPS, medical imaging, and wireless internet. (Renée James, 2012). 

In defense of radio astronomy, Dave Finley in Finley (2013) states,

 “In sum, astronomy has been a cornerstone of technological progress throughout history, has much to contribute in the future, and offers all humans a fundamental sense of our place in an unimaginably vast and exciting universe.”

Astronomy and related fields are at the forefront of science and technology, answering fundamental questions and driving innovation. 

“Blue-skies Research”

Although “blue-skies research” like astronomy rarely contributes directly with tangible outcomes on a short time scale. That makes a difference on a longer time scale through their broader application. Pursuing this research requires cutting-edge technology and methods.

The fruits of scientific and technological development in astronomy. Especially in optics and electronics, they have become essential to our day-to-day life. With applications such as personal computers, communication satellites, and mobile phones. Including Global Positioning Systems, solar panels, and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanners.

purpose of astronomy
Global Positioning Systems

Although the study of astronomy has provided a wealth of tangible, monetary, and technological gains, perhaps the most critical aspect of astronomy is not one of economic measure. 

Purpose of Astronomy

The purpose of astronomy has and continues to revolutionize our thinking on a worldwide scale. In the past, astronomy has been used to measure time, mark the seasons, and navigate the vast oceans. As one of the oldest sciences, astronomy is part of every culture’s history and roots. It inspires us with beautiful images and promises answers to the big questions. It is a window into space’s immense size and complexity. We are putting Earth into perspective and promoting global citizenship and pride in our home planet.

Astronomy helps us study how to prolong the survival of our species. Looking at the Sun’s influence on Earth’s climate is critical to how it will affect weather, water levels, etc. 

Mapping the Movement of Objects

Mapping the movement of objects in our Solar System allows us to predict the potential threats to our planet. Such events could cause significant changes to our world. Only the study of the Sun and other stars can help us to understand these processes in their entirety.

Astronomy for young people also has great value. It does not just benefit the field of astronomy but reaches across other scientific disciplines. And keep up to date with scientific discoveries (National Research Council, 1991). It has been proven that pupils who engage in astronomy. And related educational activities at a primary or secondary school are more likely to pursue careers in science and technology.

Astronomy is one of the few scientific fields that interact directly with society. Not only transcending borders but actively promoting collaborations around the world.

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