What is astronomy? Astronomy is the scientific study of just about any sort of non-manmade thing that  isn't attached to the Earth or abiding in its atmosphere. Actually, we should broaden the definition to include all that "nothing" that is out there, too. In our time, astrophysicists and cosmologists are having a ball studying all that "nothing" out there. (If you think this is kind of crazy, just hang out with us for a while).

I seriously doubt any meaningful studies or statistics exist on this issue, but I am convinced that astronomy is near the top of the list of subjects that offer such a humongous amount and variety of lifelong learning opportunities -- including radical lifelong learning where a "nobody" can make meaningful contributions to the science.

How about this?  A teen volunteer discovers a new exoplanet one day after his brief NASA training session. He had no relevant credentials. He had no wise, renowned mentor coaching him, he didn't write a  paper for the academic astronomy press, he didn't undergo peer review. He just did what he loved doing ...  and got lucky. Lucky? Sure. But the odds of finding gold increases dramatically when you are actually working to find it.


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Bungling Wannabe or Responsible Thinker:
Here's How You Know

"When you work in cosmology--the study of the cosmos at large--one of the facts of life becomes the weekly letter, e-mail, or fax from someone who wants to describe to you his own theory of the universe (yes, they are invariably men). The biggest mistake you can make is to politely answer that you would like to learn more. This immediately results in an endless barrage of messages. So how can you prevent the assault? A particular tactic that I found to be quite effective (short of the impolite act of not answering at all) is to point out the true fact that as long as the theory is not precisely formulated in the language of mathematics, it is impossible to assess its relevance. This response stops most amateur cosmologists in their tracks. The reality is that without mathematics, modern-day cosmologists would not have progressed even one step in attempting to understand the laws of nature. Mathematics provides the solid scaffolding that holds together any theory of the universe."

Quotation from:

Is God a Mathematician?
by Mario Livio