I'm a liberal arts student, an undergraduate English student who out of the blue, started getting interested in astronomy and physics, searching for facts all the time, googling about some theories, etc...

Yet, as I didn't follow the path of Science and anything related to it, I have no idea about either physics or astronomy and their concepts, but I decided to discover this field in my way.

So the question is; is it possible for me to learn astrophysics and embrace its world just by myself, knowing that I'm 20 yo. Would this journey be such a difficult thing to do that will later on turn to be a waste of time?

If this may be possible, what would be a good introductory resource where one can "test the water" to get a feel for the the concepts and start to see how difficult a thing this may turn out to be?

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    $\begingroup$ If you learn, it's never a waste of time $\endgroup$ Jun 26, 2021 at 17:21
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    $\begingroup$ What the above comment said; also science is not a set of facts, but a method to generate less-wrong knowledge over time. It is therefore useful outside of academia as well. As for personal development, you won't regret diving into a completely different world. 20 isn't too late for anything, you will thank yourself when you are 30. $\endgroup$ Jun 26, 2021 at 17:30
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    $\begingroup$ What is your actual goal here? Understanding as part of being a broadly well educated person (Everybody should have some understanding of Newtonian mechanics, just as everyone should have some appreciation of Shakespeare) Or are you looking for a career? Also, what are the first words you think of when someone says "MATHS" $\endgroup$
    – James K
    Jun 26, 2021 at 17:36
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    $\begingroup$ One must manage their expectations in life, in general. If you are expecting to get a physics PhD five years from now, that might not be realistic (though harder things have probably happened). If you expect to learn more about physics over your life and learn to appreciate it like anything else in life, then that's totally realistic. You could start with popular science books and intro textbooks and then eventually read into the scientific literature on specific topics that interest you. That could be done in a few years depending on your dedication/availability. $\endgroup$ Jun 26, 2021 at 18:26
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    $\begingroup$ Three good answers so far, I'll adjust the wording to help it fit the reference-request tag so it can stay open, allowing future good answers rather than preventing them. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Jul 11, 2021 at 5:19

3 Answers 3


If your goal is to learn about this, sure why not? The internet, books, tv you can learn.

Turn this around, could an engineering student who, out of the the blue got an interest in literature but had no idea about "arts" or "the humanities" learn about literature? Sure, they could read some novels, go to some plays... They are unlikely to become a Professor of English at Oxford, but if their goal is to widen their horizons, it is all good.

Likewise you are unlikely to get a PhD in astrophysics, but that doesn't stop you from learning. The block that many people from the humanities find is trying to understand physics without using maths. That is valid to a degree, but at some point you need to have a good grasp of calculus (and other mathematical ideas) to make progress.

By way of analogy, imagine someone who wanted to learn literature, but only read picture books. Very much of the English Lit would be closed to that person. Thus it is with Astrophyics. Learning astrophysics without maths is like learning literature by reading comic books.

  • $\begingroup$ Nica analogy with no math = only comics! $\endgroup$ Jun 26, 2021 at 21:22

You will need to know the mathematics. If you don't have the relevant mathematical background then understanding the physics would be hard because maths is the language of physics. If you can, start from calculus. "University physics" textbook by Young and Freedman covers basic concepts (you don't need everything but Newtonian physics, QM, SR and Electromagnetism would be helpful). Spend time on these chapters and problems. After this you can use "An Introduction to Modern Astrophysics" by Carroll or any good astrophysics book to learn the concepts. I learnt these concepts in my 3 year undergrad (I did maths and physics double major) and moved to astrophysics in my honours year. It will take time if you learn it yourself but life is about learning. Good luck on your journey!


Learning is never a waste.

Will the path be difficult? Not at all.

Will the path be long and lots of work? You have no idea how long and how much work, starting from your foundation as undergraduate liberal arts!

To start with, you will need at least first year college level maths. You need to be comfortable with scientific notation, exponents, geometry(trigonometry actually), and will need at least an understanding of the fundamentals of calculus. You don't need to actually be able to work with and calculate integrals, but you must recognize them and not get a heartattack when seeing a page filled with calculus.

Add an open mind, a willingness to read (a lot), and buckets of patience.


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