How To 

Learn Astrophysics at Home

The term “astrophysics” makes some people shudder with apprehension. “Astrophysics?” they ask, “Doesn’t that mean a lot of math?” While fancy equations with little to no discernible meaning to an outsider do characterize many branches of science, there’s so much more to discover. Mathematical models and formulas are usually just condensed representations of concepts that can be explained with words instead of numbers. You don’t need to be a mathematician to learn astrophysics at home. You just need to have a love for knowledge. Here’s how to apply that love for knowledge to the study of astrophysics:

1. First determine what exactly astrophysics means.
It’s easy enough to say you want to learn astrophysics, but do you know what exactly the subject entails? Astrophysics is a branch of science that incorporates both physics and chemistry to analyze and explain astronomical phenomena. This doesn’t mean that you need a through background in physics and chemistry to understand the concepts, though it wouldn’t hurt. Many branches of science converge within astrophysics, so by learning one, you are effectively increasing your comprehension of another.

2. Read, read, and then read some more.
Books have been our prime resources ever since the invention of the written word. Why turn your back on a tried and proven method? There are thousands of books out there that have been written about astrophysics, ranging from advanced textbooks to vastly simplified overviews. Evaluate how much of a science background you have, then browse a bookstore or look online to find popular books on the topic. The ones written by well-known scientists are the best to start with. They combine passion with knowledge and most are very good at taking a complicated topic and breaking it apart into chunks that are easier to grasp. The more books you read on astrophysics, the better understanding you’ll obtain.

3. Take advantage of free online courses.
Thanks to the World Wide Web, information is everywhere. Many top colleges, including Harvard, Yale, and Oxford, have release video lectures to the public that are 100% free to watch. There’s no reason not to take advantage of the opportunity to learn from quality professors teaching at the world’s most prestigious universities. Treat it like an actual course that you’re being graded for if you’re worried that you’ll drift off. Take notes, re-watch parts that were confusing to you, and if you have any questions, see if you can either contact the professor directly or find a resource online with the answer.

4. Implement the Feynman technique.
Richard Feynman, beloved theoretical physicist, left behind a legacy that continues to inspire and inform to this day. Among his many notable achievements, Feynman developed a technique that he passed along to help those struggling to learn anything from organic chemistry to quantum mechanics. It is designed to help you not only learn, but retain the knowledge you learn. First, you pick a topic to study (like astrophysics). Next, you explain things you’ve learned about the topic (perhaps from books or online courses) and explain it to a child, or explain it to someone in a way that would be understandable to a child. If you had trouble explaining anything in simple terms, you don’t understand it well enough and have identified a gap in your knowledge. Return to your studies, review that gap, then go back and see if you can now explain it.

Combining traditional methods of learning with the Feynman technique can help you learn nearly anything―including astrophysics.
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