Fast forward an age or two, and staring at the stars is still something you did if you were out at night. City lights of any type weren't really a thing for most of world history, and even in a large city in late as the Victorian era you'd still be able to see stars galore when you stepped outside.
And in a way, everyone was an expert. But advances in optics and film and the discovery that there is, seriously, a lot of stuff to look at aside from the few thousand objects visible (if you're viewing from a pretty dark spot) from earth with the naked eye made astronomy into something that you had to have a bit of expertise to pursue. At least if you wanted to push the frontiers.
And as such, the term Astronomer describes a whole subset of specialities, as a cosmologist (they don't do hair, you're thinking of something else) about planetary science and you may get a pretty baffled look. You may as well be asking an ear, nose, and throat doctor to diagnose your chronic foot pain.
They may know something about it, but it's a bit outside of their area of expertise.
Well, I was once considering what I'd need to do in order to be an astronomer. Considering if my love of space, of the stars, of all things not of this earth, would be a viable career path for me.
Which is when I first heard this joke: You know what a master's degree in astronomy will get you?
Answer: The right to serve coffee to real astronomers.
Queue sounds of laughter.
So, I decided it was a lot of work, and I'm notorious from having an easily distracted sort of personality. I might get obsessed with playing the oboe and spend a year doing only that with each free moment.
The path of least resistance made a lot of sense to me. So I quit school (this is just the first time I'd quit school, believe me, I've done it way more than just the one time) and took a job driving a truck for a paper recycling company.
Where am I going with this? I kind of forgot.
Oh yes, so, I'm not an astronomer.* But aside from writing, it's still one of my favorite things. Period. At times, I wonder what I'd be doing if I'd followed that dream I once had and pursued a career in astronomy. Then I see something like this:
That is, in case you're confused, a picture of an impact crater on mars. It's not really blue, btw, it's been enhanced so the ejecta from the impact is more easily viewable. But regardless, it's a new crater. That's a 30 meter wide hole in the planet. Wow.
Did we see this impact? No, that we missed. But we did notice the crater it left. Um, maybe a few years after it was over. You know, it could have been as long ago as 2010 that it happened.
Which leads me to the question, how did we notice it? I mean, Mars is way smaller than earth, but it sill has as much land as North America. And given the lack of a meaningful atmosphere or plate tectonics, craters don't tend to go anywhere once they show up. So there is a lot of them. How did we find this new one. It's like a finding a needle in a haystack, so to speak.
Or finding a new pepperoni on a pizza the size of Rhode Island.**
I mean, did we count them all, and then someone noticed the count was wrong? Well, turns out, some fine folks at the Univ of Colorado counted them. Yep, a man named Stuart Robbins said, in his own words, "I basically drew crater rim circles for four years."
My god. that's insane. Someone has been counting the craters on Mars. It was joke, people.
And then it dawned on me, that's totally what I'd be doing if I'd ever become an astronomer. I just know it. I'd be counting stress fractures on Europa or something. I'd be leaving work on Friday and saying, "See you Bob, I'm up to 14,244 so far. Hope to find a few more on Monday."
Funny thing, Robbins and his team came up with 635,000 craters more than 1km in size. I couldn't even use his damned map to find this new crater, it's too small!
So, by that point, I'd decided to stop my investigation on how the crater was discovered. As I'm sure it wasn't that interesting, or rather, my passing interest in the question led me to another thing, and then I didn't care enough about the original question to continue looking into it. But I came away a little bit in awe of the men and women who
As for me, I'm glad I decided to do dream of being a writer instead of an astronomer. Imagine my disappointment in learning I spent a decade of higher learning only to being reduced to counting things.
*The title of an astronomer, when I was a kid, was astronomer, not Astrophysicist. Now they're all Astrophysicists, I think it's a marketing ploy myself (*sigh* of course it isn't) No matter what they say. I guess there is something implied by each of those terms that makes one think an astronomer only looks at things, while the astrophysicist actually understands how those things work. But I hate trying to spell astrophysicist, it's really hard for me.
** I have no idea. I made that up.