What is astronomy?
Astronomy is the scientific study of the universe and everything in it. Professional (or academic) astronomers are people who spend their lives studying the wonders and majesty of our universe. Astronomy is often confused with astrology — the view that cosmic events are directly connected with and impact human lives. Astrologers are akin to fortune tellers. Where an astrologer attempts to decipher the significance of astronomical events and make them applicable to human everyday life, an astronomer studies the natural processes of those cosmic events, applying the principle of cause and effect to explain natural phenomena using the scientific methodology. In the scientific community, astrology is considered pseudoscience, that is to say it does not rely on scientific methodology and rigor, and other established empirical procedures to verify and scrutinize its claims.
Who is an amateur astronomer?
Amateur astronomers are people who engage in astronomical studies as a hobby. This may include field work or academic publications, or a combination of both as a hobby, and not necessarily as a professional job or to fulfill an academic requirement. These ‘hobbyists’ (amateur astronomers as they’re often referred to) are key stakeholders in the search for knowledge about the universe. Time and again, amateur astronomers have made significant contributions to the broader scope of astronomy. For instance, many comets have been discovered by amateur astronomers, such as Comet C/2014 Q2 (Lovejoy) which, in particular, was discovered by an IT Specialist based in Australia, Terry Lovejoy.
How do we know so much about the universe?
Thanks to the advances in science and technology, humankind has been able to discover quite a lot about the story of the universe, how it came about, and how it might possibly end. Sophisticated scientific instruments, such as telescopes, allow us to peer through the cosmic dust to see back in time when the universe was very young. We can then infer based on what we observe and the data we gather what the universe most likely looked like before humans showed up on planet Earth. And the good news is that anyone with a decent telescope can also partake in this activity, looking back in deep time as light photons millions of years old penetrate the retinas of our eyes. It is truly a remarkable time to be alive to witness the great unfolding narrative of how everything, including you and me, came to be!