Friday, May 2, 2014

Importance of Astronomy

One of the major questions regarding astronomy in the modern age is its importance and relevance to society. At first glance it may appear as if astronomy is purely an informational science with no tangible use within society. However this is not the case, although astronomy may not directly affect our society in the way that fields such as engineering disciplines do, it is clear that astronomy has actually catalyzed the growth of other major fields. This overlap between astronomy and an array of other fields is the reason for why astronomy is becoming increasingly important within our society.

One example of this can be seen with astronomical inventions. For example, in many smartphones, the camera is powered by a CCD, a device originally developed for imaging of the universe. In addition, FedEx uses a programming language known as FORTH to track packages, a language originally developed for the telescope on Kitt Peak. More examples include AT&T and their use of IRAF, Image Reduction and Analysis Facility, and even Kodak film originally used by astronomers studying the sun, which is currently used by medical professionals, artists, and photographers. From these examples, it is clear that astronomy extends past the sky and into the lives of normal civilians more directly. With the integration of astronomical discoveries into these industries, it has led to powerful technology in the hands of normal citizens through enhanced imaging in smartphones and even improvements in the field of shipping and delivery. However, holistically, it can be seen that improvements in the field of astronomy has indirectly led to the improvement of multiple fields that have contributed to the growth of the modern era.

In another outlet, astronomy has also affected fields such as medicine and energy, two fields that have also exploded in growth in the modern era and are currently considered pivotal to the continuing growth of humankind. In terms of the field of medicine, astronomers suffered a similar problem that medical professionals faced, that is, detection of increasingly faint objects. However through aperture synthesis, a process of creating a single image through multiple telescopes used by radio astronomers has led to the creation of CAT scanners and MRI’s, tools vital to finding and treating diseases. Energy-wise, applications of astronomical technology can be seen with the pursuit of creating man-made fusion through monitoring collisions, petroleum research around oil fields, and even the creation of larger solar energy panels. Overall, similar to the applications of astronomical technology in industrial fields, the integration of technology in these fields is also pivotal to the future growth of humanity due to our reliance on new forms of energy, and our need to combat rapidly evolving bacteria and viruses through medicine.

Finally, astronomy has shown vital to international collaboration among nations. It is clear that nations pride themselves on having the most efficient new technologies and race to achieve new discoveries. However more importantly, this pursuit of knowledge encourages collaboration among nations and creates a constant flow of researchers in international facilities. With expensive costs of creating new observatories, ownership usually consists of several nations. So far, all of these collaborations have been successful such as the ALMA, Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, the largest partnership in existence, the ESO, the European Southern Observatory, and even more simple partnerships such as the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope between the US and Europe. International collaboration is pivotal to the expansion of humankind since it promotes peace and mutual advancement of science and inevitably deters conflict. Although this is not a direct overlap of technology such as the previous examples it is easy to understand the importance of international collaboration and how astronomy is able to bring nations closer together.

When you consider the indirect effects of astronomy on different fields of science, it is clear as to why astronomy is important to our society in ways other than obtaining information about our Universe. Although there may be a notion that astronomy is not helpful toward society, astronomy has shown ability in propelling other fields that shape this modern age. Ranging from medicine to industry, I believe that astronomy should grow unhindered because of its dual-utility in both pure knowledge through actual data collection and its positive externality upon various fields that will continue to power the modern age.
Justin Kim