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An overview by Joan Omoruyi, Subject Librarian at Northeastern University.

Astronomy is closely related to physics; and astronomy is often located in the physics department of colleges and universities. Well known astronomers include Copernicus, Galileo Galilei, Sir Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein and Edwin Hubble.

What is Astronomy?

There are different definitions of astronomy. It may be defined as a branch of science that studies the motions and natures of celestial bodies, such as planets, stars, and galaxies. However it is also described as the study of objects and matter outside the earth's atmosphere and of their physical and chemical properties.

Branches of Astronomy

There are two main branches of astronomy:

  • optical astronomy is the study of visible celestial objects. When we think of optical astronomy what comes to mind is the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), and images of the planets. By studying these images scientists get information about the structure, nature and evolution of the universe.
  • non-optical astronomy uses instruments other than telescopes to create a picture of the universe that spans the entire electromagnetic spectrum, from low energy radio signals, to ultra high energy gamma-rays. By using these instruments astronomers have been able to find information about such features as neutron stars and black holes, and the structure of the Milky Way.

Subfields of astronomy include:

  • Planetary astronomy: focuses on planets within and outside our solar system.
  • Stellar astronomy: study of the stars including their creation, evolution and death.
  • Galactic astronomy: studies the complex system of stars, nebulae and dust that make up the Milky Way. It also studies the motion and evolution of the Milky Way and the formation of galaxies.
  • Extragalactic astronomy: This is a study of galaxies in the Universe outside of the Milky Way to learn how galaxies are grouped and interact on a large scale.
  • Cosmology: Cosmologists study the structure of the universe to understand its creation. They attempt to model what the Universe would have looked like soon after the Big Bang occurred.

References NASA. Goddard Space Flight Center. Imagine the Universe Dictionary. [Internet] Available from: [November, 2010]

Astronomy Resources

  • AstroBetter Blog "Tips and Tricks for Professional Astronomers" written by and for researchers in astronomy.
  • Astrophysics – Online tutorials cover a wide range of physics topics, including modern physics and astronomy. Material is organized through extensive concept maps."
  • Astronomy Overview and Current Research (Video, 2011) – An overview of astronomy presented by Dr. Steven Schneider of UMass Amherst followed by a discussion by Dr. Alexandra Pope about her research on galaxy formation, presented at the 2011 Science Boot Camp for Librarians.
  • SCOPE: Stellar Classification Online - Public Exploration – Citizen Science project using an interactive tutorial focusing on stellar classification (star classification) using stellar spectra. The site's goal is to teach stellar classification while inviting "citizen scientists" to help classify stars.