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Ask Michelle Your Questions

Click here for Michelle’s profile.

Are you a time traveler? A dancer? An explorer?

OK, so those are our questions for you.

Now you get to ask Michelle Thaller your questions.


Hi, first of all, I think you’re one of my favourite Secret Lifers. But actually, I was wondering what the difference between astronomy and astrophysics is–and this is a career path for me, so I’d really like to know what I’m weighing up, here! And yes, I’m a dancer–I think I’ve been beat to dancing in the world’s observatories! (my form is ballet)

A: Michelle Thaller

Okay, seems good to go. The short answer is that when it comes to a career in astronomy, there is really no difference between being an “astronomer” and being an “astrophysicist.” There used to be more of a distinctions, but science has moved on since that was true. Astronomers used to map the night sky, describe how the Celestial Sphere (the sky observed from Earth) worked, plotted the time of solstices and equinoxes, stuff like that. They were interested in the cycles and positions of the stars in the sky, but at that time, no one knew much about how stars really worked. Then in the early 1900’s, people began to piece together the whole story of what a star really way -what they were made of, how they formed and evolved, and the physics of what makes them work. Hence, “astrophysicists” were born. These days a professional astronomer is almost always an astrophysicist. In some cases, people work as professional observers at large observatories without a background in physics. But when you go to a meeting of the American Astronomical Society, our professional society, all the talks and presentations are about astrophysics.

Honestly, I use the terms interchangeably these days.

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Tom Miller

    Tom Miller is the producer of “Secret Life” and co-editor of the site’s blog. His job involves interviewing scientists and engineers, getting them to tell their amazing stories and occasionally trying to get them to sing. It’s a fantastic gig and Tom is extremely grateful for it.

    • Sharon Moore-Lawrence

      I have a 4 year old son that lives and breathes the solar system, we encourage him to watch Discovery channel, he watches with great attention and can repeat a lot of the information correctly at a later date. He watches the cute utube videos with the songs about the solar system. He can tell you the names of all the planets and dwarf planets of our solar system . We would like to know if there is something more that we can do to help him other than what we have been doing with books and videos, and taking the telescope outside. currently we watch Betelgeuse – Death of a super star 4-5 times a week instead of a bedtime story. Thank you for any help you may be able to give me.