The Astronomy Connection – How it Revolutionised Technology

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Here are some astronomical questions.

What’s the connection between the Internet and space programs? How is NASA related to baby food? And, how do photography and space research correlate?

Before getting to answers, let’s briefly talk about NASA. The agency has been at the forefront of many a serendipitous discovery, like the above, which have gone on to provide solutions for areas that had nothing to do with astronomy. And there’s even a name for this – they are called “NASA spinoff technologies”.

Now for the answers…

While developing life support systems for the MARS mission, NASA discovered a natural source for omega-3 fatty acids. This was then used as an enriching agent in baby food formula, which is still in use. Also, the agency partnered with Pillsbury, the world’s largest producer of grains that was acquired by General Mills in 2001, to develop a systematic approach for ensuring quality control when it came to prepackaged foods for spaceflight. This approach is now an industry standard when it comes to the manufacture of prepackaged foods.

Moving on from food, NASA’s technologies also had a lot to with digital photography.

Working around a need for high quality cameras that occupied very minimal space, NASA researchers developed the CMOS active pixel sensor. It’s what is used in most digital cameras and other video recording devices today. The technology has found its uses in medical imaging purposes, including endoscopy and dental x-ray imaging. It is also used by vehicle manufacturers to develop backup cameras that can be used for safe reverse and parking cameras.

There’s more.

Memory foam – a highly sought after component for furniture that keeps the user comfortable for long periods of time – was invented by NASA researchers to help keep test pilots comfortable during long and gruelling flights. Also, search and rescue operations have found NASA’s research beneficial. The personal locator beacon was developed by researchers at NASA and this helped to locate people whole were stranded at remote locations. This technology has helped save thousands of lives across the globe.

Moreover, a lot of software that was developed for astronomers is being recycled in different ways today. Interactive Data Language and Image Reduction and Analysis Facility are a case in point – these are used by various organizations to help in analysing data. One of the most significant contributions of astronomy to healthcare has come in the form of aperture synthesis. This technology is used in CT scans, MRI scans, PET scans and other imaging techniques.

Then there’s GPS – another technology that was developed due to advancements in space research. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) developed positioning software that was capable of correcting GPS data. This technology has since found its application in military operations, self-driven cars, offshore drilling, among others.

These are only few of the myriad applications of technologies that are based off inventions developed by space researchers that include astrophysicists, physicists, mathematicians, astrobiologists, astrochemists etc. Space research and astronomy has come to be used in a variety of applications, although they are mostly imperceptible. It can be concluded that astronomy is a necessary field of study to complement technological advancements. Astronomy aims to answer the questions regarding our universe and all of its content. It makes use of pure sciences such as mathematics, physics and chemistry in order to understand and find explanations for the origins and evolution of planets, stars and galaxies among other components of the known universe. From understanding navigation to deciding when to plant crops, astronomy has played a pivotal role in the rise of humans since ancient times. There are quite a few people who believe that astronomy may not be important for human survival.

However, studies have shown that scientific and technological developments are directly linked to the human development index. The field has also helped in understanding how celestial elements interact with each other and how they affect our planet. The different technological advancements make it clear that the field of astronomy not only helps us to understand how the universe works but it also plays an important role in developing pathbreaking technologies that are capable of improving our lifestyles.

Astronomy – for beginners

Astronomy is a science that strives to provide an explanation for natural occurrences such as celestial bodies. The fields that are related to astronomy include astrophysics and cosmology. While astrophysics is the field that uses conventional physics and chemistry to understand the composition and working of celestial bodies and space, cosmology is the field that deals with the study of the universe itself.

Career paths in the field of astronomy can generally be categorised into scientific, technological and operational. Scientific jobs can be related to space missions and other scientific activities including data analysis, concept development and research. The scientists are responsible for a variety of operations such as developing different types of spacecrafts (interplanetary spaceflights and rockets that are used for deployment of communications satellites), improving existing technologies such as communication networks, cameras/recording devices and mechanical rovers to explore the surface of other celestial bodies, and developing mathematicals models for the deployment of spacecrafts.

Astronomy related jobs include becoming an astronomer, an astrophysicist, an astrobiologist, an astronaut, a college professor, a technical writer, a meteorologist, a researcher, a physicist and a climatologist among others. Astronomers generally observe the night sky and collect data about the visible part of the universe. Astrophysicists apply the laws of physics and chemistry to explain the fundamental workings of stars, planets, galaxies and other celestial bodies. According to NASA, the goals of astrophysics are “to discover how the universe works, explore how it began and evolved, and search for life on planets around other stars,”. In order to become an astrophysicist, one must obtain a bachelor’s degree in astrophysics, a master’s degree in the same field, intern at a research lab, obtain a PhD in astrophysics, and then look for opportunities that are related to astrophysics. Becoming an astronaut is not a simple task. One must take up advanced courses while at school to improve one’s fundamentals. Chemistry, biology, physics, geology, mathematics, computer programming in at least one language, history are some of the subjects that must be studied by those who want to pursue a career as an astronaut.

However, one of the most sought after qualities of a potential astrophysicist is the ability to work in teams. The smartest person on the planet does not have all the time in the world to work on important aspects of a project or a complex problem. Therefore, one needs to be able to communicate the requirements to others effectively in order to get work done.

Some of the best universities in the world to study physics and astronomy are included in the list below that has been curated by QS rankings.

Rank University Location
1 Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) U.S.A
2 Stanford University U.S.A
3 Harvard University U.S.A
4 University of Cambridge U.K
5 University of Oxford U.K
6 University of California, Berkeley U.S.A
7 California Institute of Technology (Caltech) U.S.A
8 Princeton University U.S.A
9 ETH Zurich – Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Switzerland
10 The University of Tokyo Japan


Last, but not the least, if you like to read books on Astronomy, here are some suggestions.

Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, John Gribbin’s The Birth of Time, Eric Chaisson and Steve McMillan’s Astronomy: A Beginner’s Guide to the Universe are some superb books on the subject.

To conclude, remember that becoming an astronomer or an astrophysicist requires a lot of hard work and the ability to hone one’s skills according to the changing requirements. However, if it interests you, it’s a field worth considering. The opportunities, much like the universe, are limitless.

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