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AN OUT OF THIS WORLD JOURNEY: BEING AN ASTRONOMER 1

An Out of This World Journey: Being an Astronomer

By: Shannon L. Rogers

The Community College of Baltimore County


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Astronomy is more than just a science, and the study of the planets, but is an exploration

of the vast universe we live in. We are just one tiny speck in a vastly expanding universe. No

astronomer knows where the universe ends, or where it begins, nor do astronomers know if our

galaxy is at the center of the universe. There is just no way to tell, and this is the fact that makes

this subject so fascinating with endless possibilities. Are we alone in the universe? Do we really

think we are the only galaxy with human life? What if there is an end, and a beginning to the

universe that has nothing to do with the Big Bang Theory? Again, the Big Bang Theory is just

that; a theory. For all intents and purposes this paper will contain topics on the training, careers,

one significant discovery, and one compelling controversy in astronomy. There are millions of

questions that Astronomers seek the answers for in our universe, and thats why the field of

Astronomy will always be open for the curious at heart, and the ones who seek to discover the

mysteries of the universe.

Astronomy is the branch of science that studies the physical universe, also known as the

cosmos. Astronomy has many different fields of study that involve physics, astrophysics,

astronomy, chemistry, mathematics, and cosmology, just to name a few. Astronomers apply the

principles of physics and mathematics to learn more about the universe (study.com, 2013-

2017).

According to (Astronomer: Job Info & Career Requirements, 2017), Most astronomy

positions require a Ph.D. in the field of astronomy, which usually takes 5-7 years to complete.

These programs are likely to contain courses in astrophysics, stellar and planetary physics,

galaxies, cosmology, interstellar medium and optics. Mathematics and computer science are also

emphasized (Study.com).
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Do not be discouraged, because there are careers out there in this field that will also

accept a bachelors degree to get your foot in the door, but the study of physics seems to be the

gateway major towards a career in this field.

There are many places of employment for astronomers after they obtain their college

degree. According to (Astronomy Careers,2016) NASA (National Aeronautics and Space

Administration), NOAO (National Optical Astronomy Observatories), NRAO (National Radio

Astronomy Observatories), U.S. Naval Observatory, and Space Telescope Science Institute.

(Strobel, 2016), are just some of the organizations that employ astronomers out of college, but

most tend to work at universities. Being an astronomer are for the ones who are passionate about

astronomy, and becoming one will make you some money.

Retrieved from the Occupational Outlook Handbook (2016) by The Bureau of Labor and

Statistics, The median annual wage for astronomers was $104,740 in May 2016 (bls.gov,

2016). According to astronomynotes.com, with an astronomy degree you can become an

aerospace engineer, analyst, astronomer, astrophysicist, climatologist, chemical engineer,

computer systems analyst, data analyst, mathematician, physicists. (Strobel, 2016), and the list

goes on. Once again, math and physics play such a vital role in this science that one would really

need to embrace the study of these subjects while in school. The career path, and statistics do

look promising for anyone who loves to study these subject matters, and to pursue a career in

astronomy.

One fascinating discovery in astronomy came by the way of astronomer: Edwin Hubble.

Edwin Hubble is known for creating what is known as Hubbles Law during the 1920s. Edwin

Hubble discovered that the universe is indeed expanding, and he never learned about Albert

Einsteins Theory of Relativity, but Hubble did inadvertently use Einsteins theory to prove,
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(Hubbles Law, 2017) galaxies move away from each other, and that the velocity with which

they recede is proportional to their distance (Kids.Net.AU, 2017). Hubble studied the redshift of

the galaxies as they were moving away from him, which created a Doppler like redshift known

as the Cosmological Redshift, and discovered that since each galaxy is moving away from us at

the same rate and speed, that all other galaxies were doing the same thing. Say you were on the

surface of a balloon with other galaxies, when the balloon is filled with more air (inflated), these

galaxies are not only moving away from you, but all the other galaxies are moving (expanding)

away from one another at the same exact rate and speed.

Kirshner (2013) found that: The problem was not, as Einstein thought, one of describing

space and time for a static Milky Way. Our universe has another interesting property that was

unknown when Einstein formulated the Theory of Relativity, but that our universe is expanding,

stretching out in all directions (p.442).

Hubble found the relationship which we now know as the Hubble Constant according to

Comins (2015), Discovering the ESSENTIAL Universe (p.445), as indicated below by the

following formula:


Time since the Big Bang =

recessional velocity = Ho X separation.

Using the reciprocal, which can be rewritten as:


Ho =

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According to Comins (2015), We can use the Hubble Constant as the time since the

universe began. As of 2014, the most accurate measurement is 13.798 0.037 billion years

(p.446). So, on a grand scale, our universe may seem very old, but this is the farthest from the

truth. In fact, the universe is still very young, and very active.

For Hubbles contributions to astronomy, NASA named the Hubble Space Telescope

after him, in his honor. (About the Hubble Space Telescope, 2017) NASA's Hubble Space

Telescope was launched April 24, 1990, on the space shuttle Discovery from Kennedy Space

Center in Florida (NASA.org). As you can see, not only did Edwin Hubble make a monumental

discovery and contribution to astronomy, but his discovery has also served all mankind who wish

to look up among the stars, and know that we really are constantly moving through space and

time, not only rotating on Earths axis, or revolution around the Sun in our solar system alone.

There have been many discovers in astronomy, but none such as the discovery of; or better yet,

the controversy over the once known ninth planet in our solar system: Pluto.

Pluto was once known as the ninth planet from the Sun in our solar system, which was

discovered in 1930 by astronomer: Clyde W. Tombaugh. In 2006, Pluto was reclassified as a

dwarf planet which led to one of the greatest controversies of our time, and is still ongoing today.

A lot of astronomers refuse to let go of Pluto being our ninth planet explains Rice (2014),

Harvard science historian Owen Gingerich, who chairs the IAU planet definition committee,

argued at a forum last month that "a planet is a culturally defined word that changes over time,"

and that Pluto is a planet (usatoday.com).

This news of Pluto sent the astronomical world into an uproar, but this also shows how

science is forever changing and evolving. What may have been right for one phase of scientific

discovery, is not always the end of the story; at least not in science. Research by Llewellyn,
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Ortega, and Wong (2015) supports, The International Astronomical union (IAU) are the ones

who determine the official names and classifications for all celestial bodies, but had not defined

what characterized a planet prior to August 24, 2006 (Llewellyn, Ortega, & Wong, 2015). So,

before this date we all knew Pluto as the coldest, smallest, ninth planet from the Sun. After the

discovery of another celestial body beyond Pluto, the IAU had a forum to gather information on

what classifies a planet as a true planet. Pluto had two of the three classifications except that

Pluto was not big enough; nor did it have its orbital path cleared of debris like our other eight

planets. This distinction propelled the IAU to reclassify Pluto as a dwarf planet. There are

astronomers out there that highly disregard this reclassification with all the passion in their hearts

for their beloved Pluto, what they believe Pluto to be, and has always been: a planet.

(Scientists Make the Case to Restore Pluto's Planet Status. New Definition Raises

Number of Planets in Solar System to About 110, 2017) Johns Hopkins University scientist

Kirby Runyon wants to make one thing clear: Regardless of what one prestigious scientific

organization says to the contrary, Pluto is a planet (sciencedaily.com, 2017).

So, as you can see, the controversy over Plutos reclassification is one of strong merit,

and if anything, this alone proves that for an astronomer, life is more than just looking at shiny,

bright objects in the heavens above, or being in awe at the wonders of the universe, but one

where their heart is attached to their profession.

There is such a vast universe out there to be explored, and it is of my hope that future

astronomers lead mankind in the future of space exploration. If you are looking to become an

astronomer, and are in school now doing all the hard work it takes to get a degree in this field,

just hang in there. Many years ago, Ms. Urry told her academic advisor that she wanted to be an

astrophysicist. Even though her advisor laughed and said oh, no. Youd have to be a genius,
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she thought that maybe she had made a mistake in wanting to do that (Wilson, 2015). Today

Ms. Urry is the president of the American Astronomical Society. So, let Ms. Urrys story serve

as a shot of hope to anyone who is seeking a profession in this field, and just know that you can

be anything your heart desires, if youre willing to do what it takes.

Astronomers seek the answers for how the universe works, and thats why the field of

Astronomy will always be open for the curious at heart, and the ones who seek to discover our

universe. May the force be with you.


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Work Cited

Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Handbook: Physicists and Astronomers, 2015.

Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/physicists-and-

astronomers.htm

Comins, N., Discovering the ESSENTIAL Universe, 6th ed., W.H. Freeman and

Company, NY, 2015, 2013, 2009, 2006. Print.

Doyel, R., Wait, what? Pluto a planet again?, 2014. Retrieved from

https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2014/10/02/pluto-planet-solar-system/16578959/

Johns Hopkins University, Scientists make the case to restore Pluto's planet status

New definition raises number of planets in solar system to about 110, 2017. Retrieved from

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/03/170317131205.htm

Kids.net, Hubbles Law, 2017. Retrieved from

http://encyclopedia.kids.net.au/page/hu/Hubbles_law

Kirshner, R. The Accelerating Universe: A Nobel Surprise, November 2012.

proceedings of The American Philosophical Society, Vol. 157, NO. 4, December 2013.

Llewellyn, D., Ortega, I. & Wong, S. The Controversy Over Pluto, 2015. Science

Scope. Print.

NASA, About the Hubble Space Telescope, May 2, 2017. Retrieved from

https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/hubble/story/index.html

Strobel, N. Astronomy Careers, 2016. Retrieved from


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http://www.astronomynotes.com/careers.htm

Study.com, Astronomer: Job Info & Career Requirements, 2013-2017. Retrieved from

http://study.com/articles/Astronomer_Job_Information_and_Requirements_for_Students_Consid

ering_a_Career_in_Astronomy.html

Wilson, R. (2015). One in five: what its like to be a female astronomer. The Chronicle

Of Higher education, (13), 20.