Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Professional Astronomer

I've been trying to think about what it takes to be a professional astronomer since the writing assignment was posted. In general, I'm still very confused about the fine line between astronomy and astrophysics. Traditionally, astronomy is associated with observation and astrophysics is more associated with physics. However, in recent years as our knowledge of the field has greatly increased, that distinction has grown fainter and fainter. I talked to Melody about her thoughts on the subject and she explained that the difference lies in the approach. Astronomers observe the universe and use what they find to find out more about the universe. Astrophysicists use a physics approach to predict behavior of astrophysical objects.

In general, I feel like the term "Astronomer" is more like an umbrella that encompasses a lot of different types of professions and skills that ultimately serve to further our knowledge of the cosmos. For example, last summer I did an Astrophysics SURF, but most of what I did was technically computer science. However, the results contribute to the understanding of stellar objects, so it's considered as Astrophysics. 

Now that I've officially put in some thought in to this, I feel like I'm more confused than I was when I started.  I used to think that an Astronomer was someone who just did observing and an Astrophysicist was someone who did all the physics-y calculations.  Now I see that the line between the two professions isn't as clear. So far, I consider myself an astrophysicist. I'm curious to see if that will change by the end of this assignment. 

1 comment:

  1. Hahaha, I eventually came to the conclusion that there's no distinction :) As far as I can tell, astrophysics is a name made up by physicists when they figured out that astronomy is super interesting so that they wouldn't feel like they were going soft by going into astronomy.