Why Is Astronomy Important? how the astronomy community has helped me

By Braeden Welsch

"When will I ever use this?" In many sciences and especially mathematics courses, this question is asked many times. For mathematics courses, some applications are solely a mind exercise. More often than not, mathematical and scientific concepts are used to represent real life phenomena.

Astronomy is a branch of science that brings together many different branches of science and mathematical concepts to help understand how the universe works. But before thoroughly explaining my astronomy literacy has benefited me in academic situations, we should define literacy and what the science of astronomy is.

How Is Literacy Defined?

There's more to literacy than just being able to read and write. The dictionary defines literacy as: "the competence or knowledge in a specified area" (Dictionary.com). Therefore, literacy isn't exactly knowledge. Literacy involves both knowledge and competence. Competence is how someone is able to do a certain task efficiently. Yet, there's still more to literacy than that. An author by the name Veronica Bond wrote an article titled What We Talk About When We Talk About Literacy, where she states a more in depth, yet simple, way of describing what being literate means. She says that literacy isn't just our competence on being able to read and write, but it is "how people read and write" (3). A great example of this in astronomy is the proving of Kepler's three laws of planetary motion. His three laws stated that planets orbit the Sun elliptically with the Sun at one focus, a line segment joining a planet and the Sun sweeps out equal areas during equal intervals of time, and finally the square of the orbital period of a planet is proportional to the cube of the semi-major axis of its orbit. Sir Isaac Newton later developed calculus to prove Kepler's three laws mathematically. Since Kepler was literate in astronomy and mathematics, he developed laws that have held for about four hundred years and counting.

What Is Astronomy?

Again, let's look into the definition in the dictionary to start. It states that astronomy is "a branch of science that deals with celestial objects, space, and the physical universe as a whole" (Dictionary.com). To put more plainly, astronomy studies everything physical about the universe. However, most astronomers focus on one area for their study. There are observational, theoretical, planetary, galactic astronomers, cosmologists and a branch called astrometry. The entire community of astronomers include all these subcategories of separate, more specific studies. These astronomers all work together to try and make sense of how the universe works.

Astronomy Literacy

We've covered what literacy is and what astronomy is. Now we should go over what it takes to become literate in astronomy. To become the most literate in astronomy or any subject, one must make discoveries, observations, and then conceptualize a hypothesis that can stand the test of time. If this hypothesis is tested positive time and time again, it will eventually evolve into a scientific law. An astronomer named Copernicus did just that. In fact, he started a revolution of advancements in the 1500s. This revolution was named the Copernican Revolution. What Copernicus suggested, was that our solar system wasn't geocentric, but a heliocentric solar system. This lead to many other astronomers to continue to advance and prove his hypothesis to what now is common practice.

Although I'm no Copernicus nor Kepler, I have grown literacy in astronomy. At a young age, I didn't care much for space. The thought of something so vast and powerful, unhampered by anything, frightened me. In some ways, this fear drove me to learn and understand more about the mystery space holds. My parents also taught me how to find North at a young age, growing my spatial awareness. This helped me in my star observing significantly. Throughout my elementary, middle, and high school years I had an apt for mathematics and sciences. When I came to college, I decided to pursue a career in an area that uses both. My pre-calculus professor at college suggested taking Astronomy 101 and now I currently am in it, and doing well. The professor even congratulated me on my hard work. Outside of school, I watch videos, television shows and read books about astronomy. This hobby of learning about space slowly evolved into my passion and career choice.

Astronomy and Community

The astronomy community is a wonderful community of knowledge and togetherness. This closeness has helped me learn much about astronomy before having taken a course in college on the subject. Studying astronomy, realizing humans are all in this life together, helps grow the connection in people. This community is connected to literacy through these aspects. Unity helps the community grow and with the unity, comes literacy. The individuals who are involved in astronomy, who themselves are literate, can grow the community's literacy. Individuals who are literate help teach others become more literate, and help understand ways to improve the science of astronomy. Edward H. Behrman accurately conveys what community literacy learning is. In his introduction, he says that how well the individuals of a community can understand other texts of previous works (experiments, concepts, and discoveries) drives their ability to convey their ideas to others. He stresses that literacy is driven by the individual's involvement in community.

Behind this text, is an example of what the (literate) astronomy community can achieve. The Moon landing was one of man's greatest achievements in history. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) had a team of many different scientists and engineers who all worked together as a community, to put the first men on the Moon back in 1969. They did this with large computers that had computing power less than what most cellphones today do. The collaboration between scientists made such an incredible task possible.

Astronomy's Relevance In School

Astronomy has helped me understand and make connections to other branches of sciences, more than I thought possible. Not only can studying astronomy improve your scientific and mathematical skills, but through the collaboration of the community it can help improve social skills. When my astronomy professor is confused about a geology or physic concept, he looks for the answer by asking other professors of those respective departments. Recently we went over that Earth is the only terrestrial planet that has tectonic plates, but he didn't know why. He later asked the geology professor why to get an answer. Because astronomy includes so many different sciences to describe how the universe works, looking for answers in other scientific professions can answer many questions.

We did a lab in the observatory about the Moon (Left). The Bechtel National Planetarium on the Columbia Basin Community College Pasco Campus is where the Astronomy course has its classes (Top Right). A photo of the average amount of work for two hours of studying (Bottom Right).

Join Astronomy

When learning astronomy, you learn about so many different sciences. It has helped me with in many different areas of science and find a community I am excited to be apart of. Astronomy can bring people together and help us all understand our place in the universe. Joining the astronomy community has been one of my greatest decisions I've made in my educational career. By becoming literate in astronomy, I've learned much about physics, chemistry, geology, mathematics, and how they all fit together in once course. I highly encourage anyone to consider joining the astronomy community, even if you've decided on a different mathematical or scientific study. The astronomy community is a welcoming one, where everyone works together to understand and make sense of the universe we live in.

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