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This article is about the scientific study of celestial objects. For other uses, see Astronomy (disambiguation).
Astronomy, a natural science, is the study of celestial objects (such as stars, galaxies, planets, moons, asteroids, comets and nebulae) and processes (such as supernovae explosions, gamma ray bursts, and cosmic microwave background radiation), the physics, chemistry, and evolution of such objects and processes, and more generally all phenomena that originate outside the atmosphere of Earth. A related but distinct subject, physical cosmology, is concerned with studying the Universe as a whole.
Astronomy is one of the oldest sciences. The early civilizations in recorded history, such as the Babylonians, Greeks, Indians, Egyptians, Nubians, Iranians, Chinese, and Maya performed methodical observations of the night sky. Historically, astronomy has included disciplines as diverse as astrometry, celestial navigation, observational astronomy and the making of calendars, but professional astronomy is nowadays often considered to be synonymous with astrophysics.
During the 20th century, the field of professional astronomy split into observational and theoretical branches. Observational astronomy is focused on acquiring data from observations of astronomical objects, which is then analyzed using basic principles of physics. Theoretical astronomy is oriented toward the development of computer or analytical models to describe astronomical objects and phenomena. The two fields complement each other, with theoretical astronomy seeking to explain the observational results and observations being used to confirm theoretical results.
Astronomy is one of the few sciences where amateurs can still play an active role, especially in the discovery and observation of transient phenomena. Amateur astronomers have made and contributed to many important astronomical discoveries.