Astrophysics

Astrophysics

Discussion
Ask a question about 'Astrophysics'
Start a new discussion about 'Astrophysics'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
 
Encyclopedia
Astrophysics (Greek: Astro - meaning "star", and Greek: physis φύσις - meaning "nature") is the branch of astronomy
Astronomy
Astronomy is a natural science that deals with the study of celestial objects and phenomena that originate outside the atmosphere of Earth...

 that deals with the physics
Physics
Physics is a natural science that involves the study of matter and its motion through spacetime, along with related concepts such as energy and force. More broadly, it is the general analysis of nature, conducted in order to understand how the universe behaves.Physics is one of the oldest academic...

 of the universe
Universe
The Universe is commonly defined as the totality of everything that exists, including all matter and energy, the planets, stars, galaxies, and the contents of intergalactic space. Definitions and usage vary and similar terms include the cosmos, the world and nature...

, including the physical properties of celestial object
Astronomical object
Astronomical objects or celestial objects are naturally occurring physical entities, associations or structures that current science has demonstrated to exist in the observable universe. The term astronomical object is sometimes used interchangeably with astronomical body...

s, as well as their interactions and behavior. Among the objects studied are galaxies
Galaxy
A galaxy is a massive, gravitationally bound system that consists of stars and stellar remnants, an interstellar medium of gas and dust, and an important but poorly understood component tentatively dubbed dark matter. The word galaxy is derived from the Greek galaxias , literally "milky", a...

, star
Star
A star is a massive, luminous sphere of plasma held together by gravity. At the end of its lifetime, a star can also contain a proportion of degenerate matter. The nearest star to Earth is the Sun, which is the source of most of the energy on Earth...

s, planet
Planet
A planet is a celestial body orbiting a star or stellar remnant that is massive enough to be rounded by its own gravity, is not massive enough to cause thermonuclear fusion, and has cleared its neighbouring region of planetesimals.The term planet is ancient, with ties to history, science,...

s, exoplanets, the interstellar medium
Interstellar medium
In astronomy, the interstellar medium is the matter that exists in the space between the star systems in a galaxy. This matter includes gas in ionic, atomic, and molecular form, dust, and cosmic rays. It fills interstellar space and blends smoothly into the surrounding intergalactic space...

 and the cosmic microwave background. Their emissions are examined across all parts of the electromagnetic spectrum
Electromagnetic spectrum
The electromagnetic spectrum is the range of all possible frequencies of electromagnetic radiation. The "electromagnetic spectrum" of an object is the characteristic distribution of electromagnetic radiation emitted or absorbed by that particular object....

, and the properties examined include luminosity
Luminosity
Luminosity is a measurement of brightness.-In photometry and color imaging:In photometry, luminosity is sometimes incorrectly used to refer to luminance, which is the density of luminous intensity in a given direction. The SI unit for luminance is candela per square metre.The luminosity function...

, density
Density
The mass density or density of a material is defined as its mass per unit volume. The symbol most often used for density is ρ . In some cases , density is also defined as its weight per unit volume; although, this quantity is more properly called specific weight...

, temperature
Temperature
Temperature is a physical property of matter that quantitatively expresses the common notions of hot and cold. Objects of low temperature are cold, while various degrees of higher temperatures are referred to as warm or hot...

, and chemical
Chemistry
Chemistry is the science of matter, especially its chemical reactions, but also its composition, structure and properties. Chemistry is concerned with atoms and their interactions with other atoms, and particularly with the properties of chemical bonds....

 composition. The study of cosmology
Physical cosmology
Physical cosmology, as a branch of astronomy, is the study of the largest-scale structures and dynamics of the universe and is concerned with fundamental questions about its formation and evolution. For most of human history, it was a branch of metaphysics and religion...

 addresses questions of astrophysics at scales much larger than the size of particular gravitationally-bound objects in the universe.

Because astrophysics is a very broad subject, astrophysicists typically apply many disciplines of physics, including mechanics
Mechanics
Mechanics is the branch of physics concerned with the behavior of physical bodies when subjected to forces or displacements, and the subsequent effects of the bodies on their environment....

, electromagnetism
Electromagnetism
Electromagnetism is one of the four fundamental interactions in nature. The other three are the strong interaction, the weak interaction and gravitation...

, statistical mechanics
Statistical mechanics
Statistical mechanics or statistical thermodynamicsThe terms statistical mechanics and statistical thermodynamics are used interchangeably...

, thermodynamics
Thermodynamics
Thermodynamics is a physical science that studies the effects on material bodies, and on radiation in regions of space, of transfer of heat and of work done on or by the bodies or radiation...

, quantum mechanics
Quantum mechanics
Quantum mechanics, also known as quantum physics or quantum theory, is a branch of physics providing a mathematical description of much of the dual particle-like and wave-like behavior and interactions of energy and matter. It departs from classical mechanics primarily at the atomic and subatomic...

, relativity
Theory of relativity
The theory of relativity, or simply relativity, encompasses two theories of Albert Einstein: special relativity and general relativity. However, the word relativity is sometimes used in reference to Galilean invariance....

, nuclear
Nuclear physics
Nuclear physics is the field of physics that studies the building blocks and interactions of atomic nuclei. The most commonly known applications of nuclear physics are nuclear power generation and nuclear weapons technology, but the research has provided application in many fields, including those...

 and particle physics
Particle physics
Particle physics is a branch of physics that studies the existence and interactions of particles that are the constituents of what is usually referred to as matter or radiation. In current understanding, particles are excitations of quantum fields and interact following their dynamics...

, and atomic and molecular physics
Atomic, molecular, and optical physics
Atomic, molecular, and optical physics is the study of matter-matter and light-matter interactions on the scale of single atoms or structures containing a few atoms. The three areas are grouped together because of their interrelationships, the similarity of methods used, and the commonality of the...

. In practice, modern astronomical research involves a substantial amount of physics. The name of a university's department ("astrophysics" or "astronomy") often has to do more with the department's history than with the contents of the programs. Astrophysics can be studied at the bachelors
Bachelor's degree
A bachelor's degree is usually an academic degree awarded for an undergraduate course or major that generally lasts for three or four years, but can range anywhere from two to six years depending on the region of the world...

, masters
Master's degree
A master's is an academic degree granted to individuals who have undergone study demonstrating a mastery or high-order overview of a specific field of study or area of professional practice...

, and Ph.D.
Doctor of Philosophy
Doctor of Philosophy, abbreviated as Ph.D., PhD, D.Phil., or DPhil , in English-speaking countries, is a postgraduate academic degree awarded by universities...

 levels in aerospace engineering
Aerospace engineering
Aerospace engineering is the primary branch of engineering concerned with the design, construction and science of aircraft and spacecraft. It is divided into two major and overlapping branches: aeronautical engineering and astronautical engineering...

, physics, or astronomy departments at many universities
University
A university is an institution of higher education and research, which grants academic degrees in a variety of subjects. A university is an organisation that provides both undergraduate education and postgraduate education...

.

History


Although astronomy is as ancient as recorded history itself, it was long separated from the study of physics. In the Aristotelian worldview, the celestial world tended towards perfection—bodies in the sky seemed to be perfect spheres moving in perfectly circular orbits—while the earthly world seemed destined to imperfection; these two realms were not seen as related.

Aristarchus of Samos
Aristarchus of Samos
Aristarchus, or more correctly Aristarchos , was a Greek astronomer and mathematician, born on the island of Samos, in Greece. He presented the first known heliocentric model of the solar system, placing the Sun, not the Earth, at the center of the known universe...

 (c. 310–250 BC) first put forward the notion that the motions of the celestial bodies could be explained by assuming that the Earth
Earth
Earth is the third planet from the Sun, and the densest and fifth-largest of the eight planets in the Solar System. It is also the largest of the Solar System's four terrestrial planets...

 and all the other planet
Planet
A planet is a celestial body orbiting a star or stellar remnant that is massive enough to be rounded by its own gravity, is not massive enough to cause thermonuclear fusion, and has cleared its neighbouring region of planetesimals.The term planet is ancient, with ties to history, science,...

s in the Solar System
Solar System
The Solar System consists of the Sun and the astronomical objects gravitationally bound in orbit around it, all of which formed from the collapse of a giant molecular cloud approximately 4.6 billion years ago. The vast majority of the system's mass is in the Sun...

 orbited the Sun
Sun
The Sun is the star at the center of the Solar System. It is almost perfectly spherical and consists of hot plasma interwoven with magnetic fields...

. Unfortunately, in the geocentric world of the time, Aristarchus' heliocentric theory was deemed outlandish and heretical. For centuries, the apparently common-sense view that the Sun and other planets went round the Earth nearly went unquestioned until the development of Copernican heliocentrism
Copernican heliocentrism
Copernican heliocentrism is the name given to the astronomical model developed by Nicolaus Copernicus and published in 1543. It positioned the Sun near the center of the Universe, motionless, with Earth and the other planets rotating around it in circular paths modified by epicycles and at uniform...

 in the 16th century AD. This was due to the dominance of the geocentric model
Geocentric model
In astronomy, the geocentric model , is the superseded theory that the Earth is the center of the universe, and that all other objects orbit around it. This geocentric model served as the predominant cosmological system in many ancient civilizations such as ancient Greece...

 developed by Ptolemy
Ptolemy
Claudius Ptolemy , was a Roman citizen of Egypt who wrote in Greek. He was a mathematician, astronomer, geographer, astrologer, and poet of a single epigram in the Greek Anthology. He lived in Egypt under Roman rule, and is believed to have been born in the town of Ptolemais Hermiou in the...

 (c. 83-161 AD), a Hellenized astronomer
Greek astronomy
Greek astronomy is astronomy written in the Greek language in classical antiquity. Greek astronomy is understood to include the ancient Greek, Hellenistic, Greco-Roman, and Late Antiquity eras. It is not limited geographically to Greece or to ethnic Greeks, as the Greek language had become the...

 from Roman Egypt, in his Almagest
Almagest
The Almagest is a 2nd-century mathematical and astronomical treatise on the apparent motions of the stars and planetary paths. Written in Greek by Claudius Ptolemy, a Roman era scholar of Egypt,...

treatise.

The only known supporter of Aristarchus was Seleucus of Seleucia
Seleucus of Seleucia
Seleucus of Seleucia was a Hellenistic astronomer and philosopher. Coming from Seleucia on the Tigris, the capital of the Seleucid empire, or, alternatively, Seleukia on the Red Sea, he is best known as a proponent of heliocentrism and for his theory of the origin of tides.- Heliocentric theory...

, a Babylonian astronomer who is said to have proved heliocentrism through reasoning in the 2nd century BC. This may have involved the phenomenon of tide
Tide
Tides are the rise and fall of sea levels caused by the combined effects of the gravitational forces exerted by the moon and the sun and the rotation of the Earth....

s, which he correctly theorized to be caused by attraction to the Moon
Moon
The Moon is Earth's only known natural satellite,There are a number of near-Earth asteroids including 3753 Cruithne that are co-orbital with Earth: their orbits bring them close to Earth for periods of time but then alter in the long term . These are quasi-satellites and not true moons. For more...

 and notes that the height of the tides depends on the Moon's position relative to the Sun. Alternatively, he may have determined the constants of a geometric
Geometry
Geometry arose as the field of knowledge dealing with spatial relationships. Geometry was one of the two fields of pre-modern mathematics, the other being the study of numbers ....

 model for the heliocentric theory and developed methods to compute planetary positions using this model, possibly using early trigonometric
Trigonometry
Trigonometry is a branch of mathematics that studies triangles and the relationships between their sides and the angles between these sides. Trigonometry defines the trigonometric functions, which describe those relationships and have applicability to cyclical phenomena, such as waves...

 methods that were available in his time, much like Copernicus. B. L. van der Waerden
Bartel Leendert van der Waerden
Bartel Leendert van der Waerden was a Dutch mathematician and historian of mathematics....

 has interpreted the planetary models developed by Aryabhata
Aryabhata
Aryabhata was the first in the line of great mathematician-astronomers from the classical age of Indian mathematics and Indian astronomy...

 (476-550), an Indian astronomer, and Abu Ma'shar al-Balkhi
Ja'far ibn Muhammad Abu Ma'shar al-Balkhi
Abū Maʿshar, Jaʿfar ibn Muḥammad al-Balkhī , was a Persian astrologer, astronomer, and Islamic philosopher, thought to be the greatest astrologer of the Abbasid court in Baghdad...

 (787-886), a Persian astronomer
Islamic astronomy
Islamic astronomy or Arabic astronomy comprises the astronomical developments made in the Islamic world, particularly during the Islamic Golden Age , and mostly written in the Arabic language. These developments mostly took place in the Middle East, Central Asia, Al-Andalus, and North Africa, and...

, to be heliocentric models
Heliocentrism
Heliocentrism, or heliocentricism, is the astronomical model in which the Earth and planets revolve around a stationary Sun at the center of the universe. The word comes from the Greek . Historically, heliocentrism was opposed to geocentrism, which placed the Earth at the center...

 but this view has been strongly disputed by others.

In the 9th century AD, the Persian physicist
Islamic physics
Physics in medieval Islam is the development of physics in the medieval Islamic world in the history of physics. In the course of the expansion of the Islamic world, Muslim scholars encountered the science, mathematics, and medicine of antiquity through the works of Aristotle, Archimedes, Galen,...

 and astronomer
Islamic astronomy
Islamic astronomy or Arabic astronomy comprises the astronomical developments made in the Islamic world, particularly during the Islamic Golden Age , and mostly written in the Arabic language. These developments mostly took place in the Middle East, Central Asia, Al-Andalus, and North Africa, and...

, Ja'far Muhammad ibn Mūsā ibn Shākir, hypothesized that the heavenly bodies and celestial spheres
Celestial spheres
The celestial spheres, or celestial orbs, were the fundamental entities of the cosmological models developed by Plato, Eudoxus, Aristotle, Ptolemy, Copernicus and others...

 are subject to the same laws of physics
Physical law
A physical law or scientific law is "a theoretical principle deduced from particular facts, applicable to a defined group or class of phenomena, and expressible by the statement that a particular phenomenon always occurs if certain conditions be present." Physical laws are typically conclusions...

 as Earth, unlike the ancients who believed that the celestial spheres followed their own set of physical laws different from that of Earth. He also proposed that there is a force of attraction
Gravitation
Gravitation, or gravity, is a natural phenomenon by which physical bodies attract with a force proportional to their mass. Gravitation is most familiar as the agent that gives weight to objects with mass and causes them to fall to the ground when dropped...

 between "heavenly bodies
Astronomical object
Astronomical objects or celestial objects are naturally occurring physical entities, associations or structures that current science has demonstrated to exist in the observable universe. The term astronomical object is sometimes used interchangeably with astronomical body...

".
In the early 11th century, the Arabic Ibn al-Haytham (Alhazen) wrote the Maqala fi daw al-qamar (On the Light of the Moon) some time before 1021. This was the first successful attempt at combining mathematical astronomy with physics
Physics
Physics is a natural science that involves the study of matter and its motion through spacetime, along with related concepts such as energy and force. More broadly, it is the general analysis of nature, conducted in order to understand how the universe behaves.Physics is one of the oldest academic...

, and the earliest attempt at applying the experimental method
Scientific method
Scientific method refers to a body of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge. To be termed scientific, a method of inquiry must be based on gathering empirical and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of...

 to astronomy and astrophysics. He disproved the universally held opinion that the moon
Moon
The Moon is Earth's only known natural satellite,There are a number of near-Earth asteroids including 3753 Cruithne that are co-orbital with Earth: their orbits bring them close to Earth for periods of time but then alter in the long term . These are quasi-satellites and not true moons. For more...

 reflects sunlight
Sunlight
Sunlight, in the broad sense, is the total frequency spectrum of electromagnetic radiation given off by the Sun. On Earth, sunlight is filtered through the Earth's atmosphere, and solar radiation is obvious as daylight when the Sun is above the horizon.When the direct solar radiation is not blocked...

 like a mirror
Mirror
A mirror is an object that reflects light or sound in a way that preserves much of its original quality prior to its contact with the mirror. Some mirrors also filter out some wavelengths, while preserving other wavelengths in the reflection...

 and correctly concluded that it "emits light from those portions of its surface which the sun
Sun
The Sun is the star at the center of the Solar System. It is almost perfectly spherical and consists of hot plasma interwoven with magnetic fields...

's light strikes." In order to prove that "light is emitted from every point of the moon's illuminated surface," he built an "ingenious experiment
Experiment
An experiment is a methodical procedure carried out with the goal of verifying, falsifying, or establishing the validity of a hypothesis. Experiments vary greatly in their goal and scale, but always rely on repeatable procedure and logical analysis of the results...

al device." Ibn al-Haytham had "formulated a clear conception of the relationship between an ideal mathematical model and the complex of observable phenomena; in particular, he was the first to make a systematic use of the method of varying the experimental conditions in a constant and uniform manner, in an experiment showing that the intensity
Brightness
Brightness is an attribute of visual perception in which a source appears to be radiating or reflecting light. In other words, brightness is the perception elicited by the luminance of a visual target...

 of the light-spot formed by the projection of the moonlight
Moonlight
Moonlight is the light that reaches Earth from the Moon. This light does not originate from the Moon, but from sunlight. The Moon does not, however, reflect sunlight like a mirror, but it reflects light from those portions of its surface which the Sun's light strikes. See diffuse reflection.In...

 through two small aperture
Aperture
In optics, an aperture is a hole or an opening through which light travels. More specifically, the aperture of an optical system is the opening that determines the cone angle of a bundle of rays that come to a focus in the image plane. The aperture determines how collimated the admitted rays are,...

s onto a screen diminishes constantly as one of the apertures is gradually blocked up."

In the 14th century, Ibn al-Shatir
Ibn al-Shatir
Ala Al-Din Abu'l-Hasan Ali Ibn Ibrahim Ibn al-Shatir was an Arab Muslim astronomer, mathematician, engineer and inventor who worked as muwaqqit at the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, Syria.-Astronomy:...

 produced the first model of lunar
Moon
The Moon is Earth's only known natural satellite,There are a number of near-Earth asteroids including 3753 Cruithne that are co-orbital with Earth: their orbits bring them close to Earth for periods of time but then alter in the long term . These are quasi-satellites and not true moons. For more...

 motion which matched physical observations, and which was later used by Copernicus. In the 13th to 15th centuries, Tusi
Nasir al-Din al-Tusi
Khawaja Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad ibn Ḥasan Ṭūsī , better known as Naṣīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī , was a Persian polymath and prolific writer: an astronomer, biologist, chemist, mathematician, philosopher, physician, physicist, scientist, theologian and Marja Taqleed...

 and Ali Qushji provided the earliest empirical evidence
Empirical research
Empirical research is a way of gaining knowledge by means of direct and indirect observation or experience. Empirical evidence can be analyzed quantitatively or qualitatively...

 for the Earth's rotation, using the phenomena of comet
Comet
A comet is an icy small Solar System body that, when close enough to the Sun, displays a visible coma and sometimes also a tail. These phenomena are both due to the effects of solar radiation and the solar wind upon the nucleus of the comet...

s to refute Ptolemy's claim that a stationary Earth can be determined through observation. Kuşçu further rejected Aristotelian physics
Aristotelian physics
Aristotelian Physics the natural sciences, are described in the works of the Greek philosopher Aristotle . In the Physics, Aristotle established general principles of change that govern all natural bodies; both living and inanimate, celestial and terrestrial—including all motion, change in respect...

 and natural philosophy
Natural philosophy
Natural philosophy or the philosophy of nature , is a term applied to the study of nature and the physical universe that was dominant before the development of modern science...

, allowing astronomy and physics to become empirical and mathematical instead of philosophical. In the early 16th century, the debate on the Earth's motion was continued by Al-Birjandi
Al-Birjandi
Abd Ali ibn Muhammad ibn Husayn Birjandi was a prominent 16th century Persian astronomer, mathematician and physicist who lived in Birjand, Iran.- His works :...

 (d. 1528), who in his analysis of what might occur if the Earth were rotating, develops a hypothesis similar to Galileo Galilei
Galileo Galilei
Galileo Galilei , was an Italian physicist, mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher who played a major role in the Scientific Revolution. His achievements include improvements to the telescope and consequent astronomical observations and support for Copernicanism...

's notion of "circular inertia
Inertia
Inertia is the resistance of any physical object to a change in its state of motion or rest, or the tendency of an object to resist any change in its motion. It is proportional to an object's mass. The principle of inertia is one of the fundamental principles of classical physics which are used to...

", which he described in the following observational test:
After heliocentrism was revived by Nicolaus Copernicus
Nicolaus Copernicus
Nicolaus Copernicus was a Renaissance astronomer and the first person to formulate a comprehensive heliocentric cosmology which displaced the Earth from the center of the universe....

 in the 16th century, Galileo Galilei
Galileo Galilei
Galileo Galilei , was an Italian physicist, mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher who played a major role in the Scientific Revolution. His achievements include improvements to the telescope and consequent astronomical observations and support for Copernicanism...

 discovered the four brightest moons of Jupiter
Jupiter
Jupiter is the fifth planet from the Sun and the largest planet within the Solar System. It is a gas giant with mass one-thousandth that of the Sun but is two and a half times the mass of all the other planets in our Solar System combined. Jupiter is classified as a gas giant along with Saturn,...

 in 1609, and documented their orbits about that planet, which contradicted the geocentric
Geocentric model
In astronomy, the geocentric model , is the superseded theory that the Earth is the center of the universe, and that all other objects orbit around it. This geocentric model served as the predominant cosmological system in many ancient civilizations such as ancient Greece...

 dogma of the Catholic Church of his time, and escaped serious punishment only by maintaining that his astronomy was a work of mathematics, not of natural philosophy (physics), and therefore purely abstract.

The availability of accurate observational data (mainly from the observatory of Tycho Brahe
Tycho Brahe
Tycho Brahe , born Tyge Ottesen Brahe, was a Danish nobleman known for his accurate and comprehensive astronomical and planetary observations...

) led to research into theoretical explanations for the observed behavior. At first, only empirical
Empirical
The word empirical denotes information gained by means of observation or experimentation. Empirical data are data produced by an experiment or observation....

 rules were discovered, such as Kepler's laws of planetary motion
Kepler's laws of planetary motion
In astronomy, Kepler's laws give a description of the motion of planets around the Sun.Kepler's laws are:#The orbit of every planet is an ellipse with the Sun at one of the two foci....

, discovered at the start of the 17th century. Later that century, Isaac Newton
Isaac Newton
Sir Isaac Newton PRS was an English physicist, mathematician, astronomer, natural philosopher, alchemist, and theologian, who has been "considered by many to be the greatest and most influential scientist who ever lived."...

 bridged the gap between Kepler's laws and Galileo's dynamics, discovering that the same laws that rule the dynamics of objects on Earth rule the motion of planets and the moon. Celestial mechanics
Celestial mechanics
Celestial mechanics is the branch of astronomy that deals with the motions of celestial objects. The field applies principles of physics, historically classical mechanics, to astronomical objects such as stars and planets to produce ephemeris data. Orbital mechanics is a subfield which focuses on...

, the application of Newtonian gravity and Newton's laws to explain Kepler's laws of planetary motion, was the first unification of astronomy and physics.

After Isaac Newton published his book, Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, maritime navigation
Navigation
Navigation is the process of monitoring and controlling the movement of a craft or vehicle from one place to another. It is also the term of art used for the specialized knowledge used by navigators to perform navigation tasks...

 was transformed. Starting around 1670, the entire world was measured using essentially modern latitude
Latitude
In geography, the latitude of a location on the Earth is the angular distance of that location south or north of the Equator. The latitude is an angle, and is usually measured in degrees . The equator has a latitude of 0°, the North pole has a latitude of 90° north , and the South pole has a...

 instruments and the best available clock
Clock
A clock is an instrument used to indicate, keep, and co-ordinate time. The word clock is derived ultimately from the Celtic words clagan and clocca meaning "bell". A silent instrument missing such a mechanism has traditionally been known as a timepiece...

s. The needs of navigation provided a drive for progressively more accurate astronomical observations and instruments, providing a background for ever more available data for scientists.

At the end of the 19th century, it was discovered that, when decomposing the light from the Sun, a multitude of spectral line
Spectral line
A spectral line is a dark or bright line in an otherwise uniform and continuous spectrum, resulting from a deficiency or excess of photons in a narrow frequency range, compared with the nearby frequencies.- Types of line spectra :...

s were observed (regions where there was less or no light). Experiments with hot gases showed that the same lines could be observed in the spectra of gases, specific lines corresponding to unique chemical element
Chemical element
A chemical element is a pure chemical substance consisting of one type of atom distinguished by its atomic number, which is the number of protons in its nucleus. Familiar examples of elements include carbon, oxygen, aluminum, iron, copper, gold, mercury, and lead.As of November 2011, 118 elements...

s. In this way it was proved that the chemical elements found in the Sun (chiefly hydrogen
Hydrogen
Hydrogen is the chemical element with atomic number 1. It is represented by the symbol H. With an average atomic weight of , hydrogen is the lightest and most abundant chemical element, constituting roughly 75% of the Universe's chemical elemental mass. Stars in the main sequence are mainly...

) were also found on Earth. Indeed, the element helium
Helium
Helium is the chemical element with atomic number 2 and an atomic weight of 4.002602, which is represented by the symbol He. It is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, non-toxic, inert, monatomic gas that heads the noble gas group in the periodic table...

 was first discovered in the spectrum of the Sun and only later on Earth, hence
Etymology
Etymology is the study of the history of words, their origins, and how their form and meaning have changed over time.For languages with a long written history, etymologists make use of texts in these languages and texts about the languages to gather knowledge about how words were used during...

 its name. During the 20th century, spectroscopy
Spectroscopy
Spectroscopy is the study of the interaction between matter and radiated energy. Historically, spectroscopy originated through the study of visible light dispersed according to its wavelength, e.g., by a prism. Later the concept was expanded greatly to comprise any interaction with radiative...

 (the study of these spectral lines) advanced, particularly as a result of the advent of quantum physics that was necessary to understand the astronomical and experimental observations.

See also:
  • Timeline of knowledge about galaxies, clusters of galaxies, and large-scale structure
    Timeline of knowledge about galaxies, clusters of galaxies, and large-scale structure
    Timeline of galaxies, clusters of galaxies, and large-scale structure of the cosmos-Pre-20th Century:* 400s BC — Democritus proposes that the bright band in the night sky known as the Milky Way might consist of stars,...

  • Timeline of white dwarfs, neutron stars, and supernovae
    Timeline of white dwarfs, neutron stars, and supernovae
    Timeline of white dwarfs, neutron stars, and supernovaeNote that this list is mainly about the development of knowledge, but also about some supernovae taking place. For a separate list of the latter, see the article List of supernovae...

  • Timeline of black hole physics
    Timeline of black hole physics
    Timeline of black hole physics* 1640 — Ismael Bullialdus suggests an inverse-square gravitational force law* 1684 — Isaac Newton writes down his inverse-square Law of universal gravitation...

  • Timeline of gravitational physics and relativity
    Timeline of gravitational physics and relativity
    Timeline of gravitational physics and general relativity* 3rd century BC - Aristarchus of Samos proposes heliocentric model, measures the distance to the moon and its size...


Observational astrophysics


The majority of astrophysical observations are made using the electromagnetic spectrum
Electromagnetic spectrum
The electromagnetic spectrum is the range of all possible frequencies of electromagnetic radiation. The "electromagnetic spectrum" of an object is the characteristic distribution of electromagnetic radiation emitted or absorbed by that particular object....

.
  • Radio astronomy
    Radio astronomy
    Radio astronomy is a subfield of astronomy that studies celestial objects at radio frequencies. The initial detection of radio waves from an astronomical object was made in the 1930s, when Karl Jansky observed radiation coming from the Milky Way. Subsequent observations have identified a number of...

     studies radiation with a wavelength
    Wavelength
    In physics, the wavelength of a sinusoidal wave is the spatial period of the wave—the distance over which the wave's shape repeats.It is usually determined by considering the distance between consecutive corresponding points of the same phase, such as crests, troughs, or zero crossings, and is a...

     greater than a few millimeters. Example areas of study are radio waves
    Radio waves
    Radio waves are a type of electromagnetic radiation with wavelengths in the electromagnetic spectrum longer than infrared light. Radio waves have frequencies from 300 GHz to as low as 3 kHz, and corresponding wavelengths from 1 millimeter to 100 kilometers. Like all other electromagnetic waves,...

    , usually emitted by cold objects such as interstellar gas and dust clouds; the cosmic microwave background radiation
    Cosmic microwave background radiation
    In cosmology, cosmic microwave background radiation is thermal radiation filling the observable universe almost uniformly....

     which is the redshift
    Redshift
    In physics , redshift happens when light seen coming from an object is proportionally increased in wavelength, or shifted to the red end of the spectrum...

    ed light from the Big Bang
    Big Bang
    The Big Bang theory is the prevailing cosmological model that explains the early development of the Universe. According to the Big Bang theory, the Universe was once in an extremely hot and dense state which expanded rapidly. This rapid expansion caused the young Universe to cool and resulted in...

    ; Pulsar
    Pulsar
    A pulsar is a highly magnetized, rotating neutron star that emits a beam of electromagnetic radiation. The radiation can only be observed when the beam of emission is pointing towards the Earth. This is called the lighthouse effect and gives rise to the pulsed nature that gives pulsars their name...

    s, which were first detected at microwave
    Microwave
    Microwaves, a subset of radio waves, have wavelengths ranging from as long as one meter to as short as one millimeter, or equivalently, with frequencies between 300 MHz and 300 GHz. This broad definition includes both UHF and EHF , and various sources use different boundaries...

     frequencies. The study of these waves requires very large radio telescope
    Radio telescope
    A radio telescope is a form of directional radio antenna used in radio astronomy. The same types of antennas are also used in tracking and collecting data from satellites and space probes...

    s.
  • Infrared astronomy
    Infrared astronomy
    Infrared astronomy is the branch of astronomy and astrophysics that studies astronomical objects visible in infrared radiation. The wavelength of infrared light ranges from 0.75 to 300 micrometers...

     studies radiation with a wavelength that is too long to be visible to the naked eye but is shorter than radio waves. Infrared observations are usually made with telescopes similar to the familiar optical telescopes. Objects colder than stars (such as planets) are normally studied at infrared frequencies.
  • Optical astronomy is the oldest kind of astronomy. Telescopes paired with a charge-coupled device
    Charge-coupled device
    A charge-coupled device is a device for the movement of electrical charge, usually from within the device to an area where the charge can be manipulated, for example conversion into a digital value. This is achieved by "shifting" the signals between stages within the device one at a time...

     or spectroscopes are the most common instruments used. The Earth's atmosphere
    Atmosphere
    An atmosphere is a layer of gases that may surround a material body of sufficient mass, and that is held in place by the gravity of the body. An atmosphere may be retained for a longer duration, if the gravity is high and the atmosphere's temperature is low...

     interferes somewhat with optical observations, so adaptive optics
    Adaptive optics
    Adaptive optics is a technology used to improve the performance of optical systems by reducing the effect of wavefront distortions. It is used in astronomical telescopes and laser communication systems to remove the effects of atmospheric distortion, and in retinal imaging systems to reduce the...

     and space telescopes are used to obtain the highest possible image quality. In this wavelength range, stars are highly visible, and many chemical spectra can be observed to study the chemical composition of stars, galaxies and nebula
    Nebula
    A nebula is an interstellar cloud of dust, hydrogen gas, helium gas and other ionized gases...

    e.
  • Ultraviolet
    Ultraviolet
    Ultraviolet light is electromagnetic radiation with a wavelength shorter than that of visible light, but longer than X-rays, in the range 10 nm to 400 nm, and energies from 3 eV to 124 eV...

    , X-ray
    X-ray astronomy
    X-ray astronomy is an observational branch of astronomy which deals with the study of X-ray observation and detection from astronomical objects. X-radiation is absorbed by the Earth's atmosphere, so instruments to detect X-rays must be taken to high altitude by balloons, sounding rockets, and...

     and gamma ray astronomy study very energetic processes such as binary pulsar
    Binary pulsar
    A binary pulsar is a pulsar with a binary companion, often a white dwarf or neutron star. Binary pulsars are one of the few objects which allow physicists to test general relativity in the case of a strong gravitational field...

    s, black hole
    Black hole
    A black hole is a region of spacetime from which nothing, not even light, can escape. The theory of general relativity predicts that a sufficiently compact mass will deform spacetime to form a black hole. Around a black hole there is a mathematically defined surface called an event horizon that...

    s, magnetar
    Magnetar
    A magnetar is a type of neutron star with an extremely powerful magnetic field, the decay of which powers the emission of copious high-energy electromagnetic radiation, particularly X-rays and gamma rays...

    s, and many others. These kinds of radiation do not penetrate the Earth's atmosphere well. There are two methods in use to observe this part of the electromagnetic spectrum—space-based telescopes and ground-based imaging air Cherenkov telescopes (IACT). Examples of Observatories
    Observatory
    An observatory is a location used for observing terrestrial or celestial events. Astronomy, climatology/meteorology, geology, oceanography and volcanology are examples of disciplines for which observatories have been constructed...

     of the first type are RXTE, the Chandra X-ray Observatory
    Chandra X-ray Observatory
    The Chandra X-ray Observatory is a satellite launched on STS-93 by NASA on July 23, 1999. It was named in honor of Indian-American physicist Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar who is known for determining the maximum mass for white dwarfs. "Chandra" also means "moon" or "luminous" in Sanskrit.Chandra...

     and the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory
    Compton Gamma Ray Observatory
    The Compton Gamma Ray Observatory was a space observatory detecting light from 20 KeV to 30 GeV in Earth orbit from 1991 to 2000. It featured four main telescopes in one spacecraft covering x-rays and gamma-rays, including various specialized sub-instruments and detectors...

    . Examples of IACTs are the High Energy Stereoscopic System
    High Energy Stereoscopic System
    High Energy Stereoscopic System or H.E.S.S. is a next-generation system of Imaging Atmospheric Cherenkov Telescopes for the investigation of cosmic gamma rays in the 100 GeV and TeV energy range...

     (H.E.S.S.) and the MAGIC
    MAGIC (telescope)
    MAGIC is a system of two Imaging Atmospheric Cherenkov telescopes situated at the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory on La Palma, one of the Canary Islands, at about 2200 m above sea level...

     telescope.


Other than electromagnetic radiation, few things may be observed from the Earth that originate from great distances. A few gravitational wave
Gravitational wave
In physics, gravitational waves are theoretical ripples in the curvature of spacetime which propagates as a wave, traveling outward from the source. Predicted to exist by Albert Einstein in 1916 on the basis of his theory of general relativity, gravitational waves theoretically transport energy as...

 observatories have been constructed, but gravitational waves are extremely difficult to detect. Neutrino
Neutrino
A neutrino is an electrically neutral, weakly interacting elementary subatomic particle with a half-integer spin, chirality and a disputed but small non-zero mass. It is able to pass through ordinary matter almost unaffected...

 observatories have also been built, primarily to study our Sun. Cosmic ray
Cosmic ray
Cosmic rays are energetic charged subatomic particles, originating from outer space. They may produce secondary particles that penetrate the Earth's atmosphere and surface. The term ray is historical as cosmic rays were thought to be electromagnetic radiation...

s consisting of very high energy particles can be observed hitting the Earth's atmosphere.

Observations can also vary in their time scale. Most optical observations take minutes to hours, so phenomena that change faster than this cannot readily be observed. However, historical data on some objects is available spanning centuries
Century
A century is one hundred consecutive years. Centuries are numbered ordinally in English and many other languages .-Start and end in the Gregorian Calendar:...

 or millennia. On the other hand, radio observations may look at events on a millisecond timescale (millisecond pulsar
Millisecond pulsar
A millisecond pulsar is a pulsar with a rotational period in the range of about 1-10 milliseconds. Millisecond pulsars have been detected in the radio, X-ray, and gamma ray portions of the electromagnetic spectrum. The origin of millisecond pulsars is still unknown...

s) or combine years of data (pulsar deceleration studies). The information obtained from these different timescales is very different.

The study of our very own Sun has a special place in observational astrophysics. Due to the tremendous distance of all other stars, the Sun can be observed in a kind of detail unparalleled by any other star. Our understanding of our own sun serves as a guide to our understanding of other stars.

The topic of how stars change, or stellar evolution
Stellar evolution
Stellar evolution is the process by which a star undergoes a sequence of radical changes during its lifetime. Depending on the mass of the star, this lifetime ranges from only a few million years to trillions of years .Stellar evolution is not studied by observing the life of a single...

, is often modeled by placing the varieties of star types in their respective positions on the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram, which can be viewed as representing the state of a stellar object, from birth to destruction. The material composition of the astronomical objects can often be examined using:
  • Spectroscopy
    Spectroscopy
    Spectroscopy is the study of the interaction between matter and radiated energy. Historically, spectroscopy originated through the study of visible light dispersed according to its wavelength, e.g., by a prism. Later the concept was expanded greatly to comprise any interaction with radiative...

  • Radio astronomy
    Radio astronomy
    Radio astronomy is a subfield of astronomy that studies celestial objects at radio frequencies. The initial detection of radio waves from an astronomical object was made in the 1930s, when Karl Jansky observed radiation coming from the Milky Way. Subsequent observations have identified a number of...

  • Neutrino astronomy
    Neutrino astronomy
    Neutrino astronomy is the branch of astronomy that observes astronomical objects with neutrino detectors in special observatories. Nuclear reactions in stars and supernova explosions produce very large numbers of neutrinos, a very few of which may be detected by a neutrino telescope...

     (future prospects)

Theoretical astrophysics


Theoretical astrophysicists use a wide variety of tools which include analytical model
Mathematical model
A mathematical model is a description of a system using mathematical concepts and language. The process of developing a mathematical model is termed mathematical modeling. Mathematical models are used not only in the natural sciences and engineering disciplines A mathematical model is a...

s (for example, polytropes to approximate the behaviors of a star) and computation
Computation
Computation is defined as any type of calculation. Also defined as use of computer technology in Information processing.Computation is a process following a well-defined model understood and expressed in an algorithm, protocol, network topology, etc...

al numerical simulations
Numerical analysis
Numerical analysis is the study of algorithms that use numerical approximation for the problems of mathematical analysis ....

. Each has some advantages. Analytical models of a process are generally better for giving insight into the heart of what is going on. Numerical models can reveal the existence of phenomena and effects that would otherwise not be seen.

Theorists in astrophysics endeavor to create theoretical models and figure out the observational consequences of those models. This helps allow observers to look for data that can refute a model or help in choosing between several alternate or conflicting models.

Theorists also try to generate or modify models to take into account new data, In the case of an inconsistency, the general tendency is to try to make minimal modifications to the model to fit the data. In some cases, a large amount of inconsistent data over time may lead to total abandonment of a model.

Topics studied by theoretical astrophysicists include: stellar dynamics
Stellar dynamics
Stellar dynamics is the branch of astrophysics which describes in a statistical way the collective motions of stars subject to their mutual gravity. The long range of gravity and the slow "relaxation" of stellar systems prevent the use of the methods of statistical physics...

 and evolution
Stellar evolution
Stellar evolution is the process by which a star undergoes a sequence of radical changes during its lifetime. Depending on the mass of the star, this lifetime ranges from only a few million years to trillions of years .Stellar evolution is not studied by observing the life of a single...

; galaxy formation
Galaxy formation and evolution
The study of galaxy formation and evolution is concerned with the processes that formed a heterogeneous universe from a homogeneous beginning, the formation of the first galaxies, the way galaxies change over time, and the processes that have generated the variety of structures observed in nearby...

; magnetohydrodynamics
Magnetohydrodynamics
Magnetohydrodynamics is an academic discipline which studies the dynamics of electrically conducting fluids. Examples of such fluids include plasmas, liquid metals, and salt water or electrolytes...

; large-scale structure of matter
Matter
Matter is a general term for the substance of which all physical objects consist. Typically, matter includes atoms and other particles which have mass. A common way of defining matter is as anything that has mass and occupies volume...

 in the Universe
Universe
The Universe is commonly defined as the totality of everything that exists, including all matter and energy, the planets, stars, galaxies, and the contents of intergalactic space. Definitions and usage vary and similar terms include the cosmos, the world and nature...

; origin of cosmic ray
Cosmic ray
Cosmic rays are energetic charged subatomic particles, originating from outer space. They may produce secondary particles that penetrate the Earth's atmosphere and surface. The term ray is historical as cosmic rays were thought to be electromagnetic radiation...

s; general relativity
General relativity
General relativity or the general theory of relativity is the geometric theory of gravitation published by Albert Einstein in 1916. It is the current description of gravitation in modern physics...

 and physical cosmology
Physical cosmology
Physical cosmology, as a branch of astronomy, is the study of the largest-scale structures and dynamics of the universe and is concerned with fundamental questions about its formation and evolution. For most of human history, it was a branch of metaphysics and religion...

, including string
String theory
String theory is an active research framework in particle physics that attempts to reconcile quantum mechanics and general relativity. It is a contender for a theory of everything , a manner of describing the known fundamental forces and matter in a mathematically complete system...

 cosmology and astroparticle physics
Astroparticle physics
Astroparticle physics, the same as particle astrophysics, is that branch of particle physics that studies elementary particles of astronomical origin, and their relation to astrophysics and cosmology. It is a relatively new field of research emerging at the intersection of particle physics,...

. Astrophysical relativity serves as a tool to gauge the properties of large scale structures for which gravitation plays a significant role in physical phenomena investigated and as the basis for black hole
Black hole
A black hole is a region of spacetime from which nothing, not even light, can escape. The theory of general relativity predicts that a sufficiently compact mass will deform spacetime to form a black hole. Around a black hole there is a mathematically defined surface called an event horizon that...

 (astro)physics
Physics
Physics is a natural science that involves the study of matter and its motion through spacetime, along with related concepts such as energy and force. More broadly, it is the general analysis of nature, conducted in order to understand how the universe behaves.Physics is one of the oldest academic...

 and the study of gravitational waves.

Some widely accepted and studied theories and models in astrophysics, now included in the Lambda-CDM model
Lambda-CDM model
ΛCDM or Lambda-CDM is an abbreviation for Lambda-Cold Dark Matter, which is also known as the cold dark matter model with dark energy...

 are the Big Bang
Big Bang
The Big Bang theory is the prevailing cosmological model that explains the early development of the Universe. According to the Big Bang theory, the Universe was once in an extremely hot and dense state which expanded rapidly. This rapid expansion caused the young Universe to cool and resulted in...

, Cosmic inflation
Cosmic inflation
In physical cosmology, cosmic inflation, cosmological inflation or just inflation is the theorized extremely rapid exponential expansion of the early universe by a factor of at least 1078 in volume, driven by a negative-pressure vacuum energy density. The inflationary epoch comprises the first part...

, dark matter
Dark matter
In astronomy and cosmology, dark matter is matter that neither emits nor scatters light or other electromagnetic radiation, and so cannot be directly detected via optical or radio astronomy...

, dark energy
Dark energy
In physical cosmology, astronomy and celestial mechanics, dark energy is a hypothetical form of energy that permeates all of space and tends to accelerate the expansion of the universe. Dark energy is the most accepted theory to explain recent observations that the universe appears to be expanding...

 and fundamental theories of physics. Wormholes are examples of theories which are yet to be proven.

See also


  • Astronomical observatories
  • Important publications in astrophysics
  • List of astrophysicists
  • List of Russian astrophysicists
  • Nucleosynthesis
    Nucleosynthesis
    Nucleosynthesis is the process of creating new atomic nuclei from pre-existing nucleons . It is thought that the primordial nucleons themselves were formed from the quark–gluon plasma from the Big Bang as it cooled below two trillion degrees...

  • Particle accelerator
    Particle accelerator
    A particle accelerator is a device that uses electromagnetic fields to propel charged particles to high speeds and to contain them in well-defined beams. An ordinary CRT television set is a simple form of accelerator. There are two basic types: electrostatic and oscillating field accelerators.In...

  • Astrodynamics
    Astrodynamics
    Orbital mechanics or astrodynamics is the application of ballistics and celestial mechanics to the practical problems concerning the motion of rockets and other spacecraft. The motion of these objects is usually calculated from Newton's laws of motion and Newton's law of universal gravitation. It...

  • Stellar physics
    Stellar physics
    Stellar physics, is a term coined for the research concerning the formation, evolution, interior and the atmospheres of stars. The understanding of the birth and death of stars requires the application of almost all branches of modern physics...

  • Astrochemistry
    Astrochemistry
    Astrochemistry is the study of the abundance and reactions of chemical elements and molecules in the universe, and their interaction with radiation. The discipline is an overlap of astronomy and chemistry. The word "astrochemistry" may be applied to both the Solar System and the interstellar medium...

  • Cosmic ray
    Cosmic ray
    Cosmic rays are energetic charged subatomic particles, originating from outer space. They may produce secondary particles that penetrate the Earth's atmosphere and surface. The term ray is historical as cosmic rays were thought to be electromagnetic radiation...

  • Bremsstrahlung
    Bremsstrahlung
    Bremsstrahlung is electromagnetic radiation produced by the deceleration of a charged particle when deflected by another charged particle, typically an electron by an atomic nucleus. The moving particle loses kinetic energy, which is converted into a photon because energy is conserved. The term is...


External links