How Is Math Used in Astronomy?

Math is used in astronomy to calculate routes for satellites, rockets and space probes. In addition, math is used in the global positioning system, for transmitting messages when data is compressed, and for coding the images and element modeling to build spacecraft.

Math and astronomy have been closely related since their inception. One of the founders of mathematics, Pythagoras of Samos, theorized about the spheres to which each planet is attached. Claudius Ptolemy, in the second century AD, developed a geocentric mathematical model of the Solar system that was used until Columbus’ time. Copernicus was a mathematician and astronomer who developed the heliocentric model of the Solar system.

In the 17th century, Johannes Kepler studied the planet’s orbits mathematically, while Isaac Newton discovered the laws of gravity and described the planets’ motion in relation to one another. Newton’s equations are still used for calculating gravitational forces.

As a modern example, astronauts use math to direct a space shuttle that moves at a speed of 17,500 miles per hour to a space station for a rendezvous. Complex mathematical calculations must be performed so that the two objects moving at high speed can meet at one point without causing damage to each other. Modern mathematical tools such as error analysis and the maximum principle help optimize trajectories of spacecraft.