Astronomers observe a wide range of astronomical sources, including high-redshift galaxies, AGNs, the afterglow from the Big Bang and many different types of stars and protostars.
A variety of data can be observed for each object. The position coordinates locate the object on the sky using the techniques of spherical astronomy, and the magnitude determines its brightness as seen from the Earth. The relative brightness in different parts of the spectrum yields information about the temperature and physics of the object. Photographs of the spectra allow the chemistry of the object to be examined.
Parallax shifts of a star against the background can be used to determine the distance, out to a limit imposed by the resolution of the instrument. The radial velocity of the star and changes in its position over time (proper motion) can be used to measure its velocity relative to the Sun. Variations in the brightness of the star give evidence of instabilities in the star's atmosphere, or else the presence of an occulting companion. The orbits of binary stars can be used to measure the relative masses of each companion, or the total mass of the system. Spectroscopic binaries can be found by observing doppler shifts in the spectrum of the star and its close companion.
Stars of identical masses that formed at the same time and under similar conditions typically have nearly identical observed properties. Observing a mass of closely associated stars, such as in a globular cluster, allows data to be assembled about the distribution of stellar types. These tables can then be used to infer the age of the association.
For distant galaxies and AGNs observations are made of the overall shape and properties of the galaxy, as well as the groupings where they are found. Observations of certain types of variable stars and supernovae of known luminosity, called standard candles, in other galaxies allows the inference of the distance to the host galaxy. The expansion of space causes the spectra of these galaxies to be shifted, depending on the distance, and modified by the doppler effect of the galaxy's radial velocity. Both the size of the galaxy and its redshift can be used to infer something about the distance of the galaxy. Observations of large numbers of galaxies are referred to as redshift surveys, and are used to model the evolution of galaxy forms.
Read more about this topic: Observational Astronomy
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