I am a chemist an I have some doubts about the work of astrophysicists.

I know that astrophysicists do a lot of theoretical calculations based in other theoretical work and also based in real measurements, which are normally made by astronomers.

But I don´t know if all the theoretical work of astrophysicists has to be confirmed by the measurements of the astronomers.

There is a lot more theoretical work done than there is equipment (telescopes, spectrometers, etc) necessary to measure and otherwise confirm their work, so do astrophysicists have to wait years in order for the observatories to make measurements confirming/contradicting their theories?

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    $\begingroup$ I'd argue that this isn't special to astrophysics & astronomy, it's a feature of all theoretical & experimental fields. $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Feb 17 '15 at 15:04

Theoretical physics, in general, does not have to be confirmed by observations. Theories are proposed as an effort to explain observations, so some consistency with observations is expected. However, it's not necessary to wait for observations. A theoretical astrophysicist can propose work that is consistent with current observations and build off of it, making new predictions that observational tests have yet to confirm. But rather than waiting to see if tests confirm the predictions, they can continue working on the theory to see what further predictions or interpretations are available. Alternatively, they can also develop competing theories, use the unconfirmed theories as a basis for new theories or start working on a different topic altogether. If the observational data simply isn't available, a theoretical physicist won't sit on their hands and wait. They can operate as if the theory is confirmed until the data from tests is received. That speeds up the process if they were correct and changes nothing if they were wrong. Others will likely have developed different theories and, more than likely, one theory at least will fit the new data as well. Then the work done on that theory is accepted and everyone refocuses to that framework. Wash, rinse, and repeat.


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