21st century astronomy by John Jeffrey Hester; et al

By John Jeffrey Hester; et al

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Today astronomers work along with their colleagues in related fields, such as physics, chemistry, geology, and planetary science, to sharpen our understanding of the physical laws that govern the behavior of matter and energy and to use this understanding to make sense of our observations of the cosmos. Astronomy has also benefited enormously from the computer revolution. The 21st century astronomer spends far more time staring at a computer screen than peering through the eyepiece of a telescope.

Some theories become so well tested and are of such fundamental importance that we come to refer to them as physical laws. A scientific principle is a general idea or sense about how the universe is that guides our construction of new theories. Occam’s razor, for example, is a guiding principle in science stating that when we are faced with two hypotheses that explain a particular phenomenon equally well, 10 Chapter 1 Why Learn Astronomy? we should adopt the simpler of the two. At the heart of modern astronomy is another principle: the cosmological principle.

Yet we live on a planet with a core consisting mostly of iron and nickel, surrounded by a mantle made up of rocks containing large amounts of silicon and various other elements. Our bodies are built of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, sodium, phosphorus, and a host of other chemical elements. If these elements that make up Earth and our bodies were not present in the early universe, where did they come from? The answer to this question lies within the stars. Nuclear fusion reactions occurring deep within the interiors of stars combine atoms such as hydrogen, forming more massive atoms, and thereby accomplishing the alchemist’s unattainable dream of transforming one element into another.

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