Astronomy, the study of the universe and all the objects that populate it, relies on a vast amount of data. And while researchers can’t gather much astronomy data directly, they have already contributed much to humanity’s understanding of the universe.
Many people make a distinction between observational and theoretical astronomy, or whether the astronomer observes objects or builds computer models of their behavior.
Most astronomy data comes from images, though not all images are in the visible light spectrum. Researchers can collect ultraviolet, infrared, radio wave, and other imagery to map the skies or determine the content of the galaxy. They use ground-based telescopes, space telescopes, robots, and satellites.
Unlike many other types of data categories, ordinary people contribute a great deal of astronomy data from their backyards. Yet, with new (expensive) technologies that observe deep space from the ground or from space telescopes like Hubble, astronomy data is increasingly becoming something only expensive research institutions can contribute to. At least for now; technologies become cheaper over time and ordinary people can still generate new astronomy data.
There is a vast amount of data available, covering all kinds of objects in space, from quasars to asteroids to hydrogen gas clouds, and so on. Astronomy data also plots star maps and measures nebulae location change as well as star luminosity and temperature. The list goes on.
Further, astronomers use this observed data to figure out an impressive range of information about the universe. For example, changes to the amount of light seen from a star indicates a planet passed in front of it. Or, time series data show that objects move faster the farther they get from a central point; Hubble used this information to argue that the universe is expanding.
Soon, the field will advance to the point that physicists can begin to understand dark matter and dark energy.
As noted above, astronomers use this data to map the universe, try to understand the composition of celestial bodies, and unravel the secrets of the universe, including the history of life.
Other uses for astronomy data include, potentially, faster and safer space flight, asteroid mining, and better space weather forecasting.
As noted above, most of this data can’t yet be physically studied, so careful observation and theoretical models assume great importance in the field.
Much of this data is published by educational and research organizations, however, and can therefore be considered high quality.
An independent researcher can use officially published data sources to compile a specific dataset for their own uses and rest assured that the information is of of high quality. They should take care, however, to cleanse and standardize their various data sources.
So far, the researchers say they’ve identified five exoplanets that are near enough to Earth that extrasolar astronomers could theoretically see us. From those worlds, Earth would appear as a tiny blob of shadow passing in front of our Sun.
And although five exoplanets is just a tiny fraction of all the worlds out there, Pepper says their list might be a good starting point for researchers involved with the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, or SETI.
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