Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Astrophysics -What actually is this?

  1. Jan 22, 2005 #1
    I was wonderiong what actually this field is, is it Astronomy with more math and physics? Or is it relevant to the Big Bang and Quantum physics?

    Just wondering
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 22, 2005 #2


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    The distinction between astrophysics and astronomy is sort of a matter of taste. Astronomy was originally more concerned with observation, while astrophysics has its emphasis on theory. Big bang is a phenomenom, where the theory is astrophysics and the observational evidence (cosmic microwave background, etc.) is astronomy. Quantum physics is a branch of physics used by astrophysicists in describing many differenent phenomena, such as how stars shine to supernova events as well as the big bang.
  4. Jan 23, 2005 #3
    I was going to say that just off the top of my head I'd say that astronomy is the science of merely recording celestial observations and cataloging objects, while astrophysics is the study of what those objects are, what they are made of, and how they behave.

    I would go further to say that virtually all astronomers today are astrophysicists as well. Even Dr. Margaret Geller who has focused on the study of mapping the large scale structure of the universe is considered to be an astrophysicist rather than just an astronomer. Of course, she is also deeply involved with considering physical explanations of what might have caused the discovered structure to have evolved.

    Just for fun I Googled "Astronomy vs. Astrophysics" and found a short article from Penn State that supports my personal take on these definitions.

    http://www.pserie.psu.edu/academic/science/degrees/astronomy/astrophysics.htm" [Broken]

    From that ariticle:
    So in a sense you could say that today there really isn't any difference between the two words, but historically astronomy was concerned more with just mapping and cataloging observations.

    Just for kicks here's a link to a site that talks about Geller's work in mapping the universe. She is a true Astronomer/Astrophysicist. :approve:

    [url=" http://www.realtruthmag.org/articles/july-mtu.html]Mapping the Universe[/url]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 1, 2017
  5. Jan 27, 2005 #4


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Astronomy is the all-encompassing term. Astrophysics is one aspect of astronomy. Other categories can include cosmology, planetary science, observational astronomy, etc. etc. And there's overlap among the categories.
  6. Mar 1, 2005 #5


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Good question, and unfortunately I don't think a definitive answer exists. It's funny the difference in reaction I get when I tell people I'm an "astronomer" vs. telling them I'm an "astrophysicist". The latter usually stops the conversation.
  7. Mar 22, 2005 #6


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    Pretty much anything physics ends a conversation, unless its another physicist.

    Probably before 1900, astronomy was pretty much observation and the theory was confined to classical mechanics. With observation one builds models and confirms theories.

    With the advent of relativity, nuclear/particle physics and quantum mechanics, the field of astronomy/astrophysics exploded. Now one could begin to understand stars on a different level. Then new phenomena like quasars were discovered. Then black holes . . . .
  8. Mar 22, 2005 #7

    Isn't relativity part of classical mechanics? :confused:

    Sorry if i am too skeptical..
  9. Mar 22, 2005 #8
    Classical mechanics is Newton's mechanics.

    Anyway, they sometimes say you need a good telescope to be a good astronomer and good mathematical skills to be an astrophysicist :wink:
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook