Earth Science and Astronomy: More Related than You & Your Mother


BY STEFANIE STRACK


Photo Credit: Cup of Zup (CupofZup.com)
Photo Credit: Cup of Zup (CupofZup.com)

Many people think of Earth Science and Astronomy as two vastly different branches of science, and never give any thought as to how the two of them could be connected. They are actually more related than one might think. After all, Astronomy is the study of space and the objects in it, and Earth happens to fall into this category.

By studying one of these branches, we can learn more about the other. For example, from knowledge we gain in Astronomy, the seasons we experience on Earth are explained. The Earth rotates around the Sun on an axis tilted 23.5 ° from the perpendicular (the y-axis of the plane in which Earth’s axis is measured upon). Because of Earth’s tilt, at different parts of the year, the portion of the Earth you live in points toward or away from the Sun. If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, the portion of the Earth you are on is mostly directed towards the Sun in June; this is when we experience summer. At this time, we receive more direct Sunlight, and have longer daylight hours than any other time during the year. The opposite holds true for the wintertime.

In December, the Northern Hemisphere is tilted furthest away from the Sun; hence, we receive more indirect sunlight and have shorter days or longer nights. In the intermediate times of the year when the Northern Hemisphere isn’t pointed toward either extreme, we experience spring and fall. It is important to understand this concept because as we experience the changing of seasons throughout the year, we should know why it happens. Understanding how Earth moves in space helps people understand how and why astronomical events occur on Earth. Explaining the changes between the seasons is one of many examples in which Astronomy aides in understanding Earth.

Conversely, understanding more about how our planet works can help scientists determine how other elements work in space. By studying the Earth, we provide ourselves with much of the information needed to study other planets as well. For example, currently the rover, Curiosity,is exploring Mars. One of the goals for this mission includes investigation of Martian geology. Astronomers use information gathered from their studies of Earth as a reference point to help people understand more about Mars. Through Curiosity, we are hoping to learn more about Martian soil and the planet’s rock and mineral composition (NASA, 2011). Because astronomers and scientists know much about the Earth’s soil and rock and mineral composition, they will have an idea about where to start in terms of identifying these properties on Mars. Much of what they know about the elemental composition on Mars is due to spacecraft as well as the study of Martian meteorites which have landed on Earth.

Astronomers have been able to determine that, like Earth, Mars has an abundant supply of silicon, oxygen, iron, magnesium, aluminum, potassium and calcium (Planetary Science Institution, 2014). Astrophysicists have also used their knowledge of plate tectonics on Earth to infer that they more than likely exist on Mars as well. The theory of plate tectonics serves as an explanation for how mountainous and volcanic features are formed. An Yin, a professor of Earth and space studies at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) told the UCLA Newsroom that he arrived at this conclusion based on previous Earth Science knowledge: “When I studied the satellite images from Mars, many of the features looked much like the fault systems I have seen in the Himalayas and Tibet, and in California as well, including the geomorphology” (Wolpert, 2012). The study of our own planet can tell us a lot about others as well.

By studying Earth and Astronomical Sciences, people can understand more about what is going on around us. In many cases, it is necessary to have an understanding in one science to help us understand a concept in the other. Earth Science and Astronomy are interconnected and by studying both, not only can we learn more about the Earth and how it fits into the universe, but we can appreciate how aspects of the universe are a part of the everyday world we live in.

To learn more about how the wonderful planet we call Earth works in relation to Space, sign up for SCE 205 Earth and Astronomical Science today!

Sources: 

NASA. (2011, November 26). Mars Science Laboratory. Retrieved from NASA.gov:
http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/msl/index.html#.U0Sqi_ldWSo

Planetary Science Institution. (2014). Mars. Retrieved from PSI:
http://www.psi.edu/epo/faq/mars.html

Wolpert, S. (2012, August 9). UCLA Scientist Discovers Plate Tectonics On Mars.
Retrieved from UCLA Newsroom: http://newsroom.ucla.edu/portal/ucla/ucla-
scientist- discovers-plate-237303.aspx