Expanded Description. Class members will learn to use the sky simulation software Stellarium and read selections from a textbook in conjunction with weekly course topics. The course will be lecture-based but include some group discussion coupled with in-class activities. We will make use of quantitative reasoning associated with a few concepts of elementary geometry, algebra and physics. Prior experience with these would be helpful but is not a requirement for the course. We will also arrange an optional evening session to do some star gazing and looking through a telescope at Jupiter and Saturn, which will be prominent in the sky during the course.
Sky Model Software – Stellarium is available for free download and installation on computers (Mac or PC) at http://stellarium.org, or as an app for tablets or cell phones from the Apple or Android app stores. Textbook : OpenStax Astronomy . For students willing to do the reading on a tablet or computer, online access to the text will be free. Otherwise, hard copies are available for purchase (for example, at bookfinder.com beginning at $41.94 as of May 2022). Assigned readings will be selected from material in Chapters 2-5, 15-19, and 21-23 (chapters and sections indicated in brackets below). I also recommend that students read through Chapter 1 (which provides a brief introductory “tour”) and peruse end-of-chapter notes, which have plentiful recommendations for further reading and links to online resources.
Part I. Naked Eye Astronomy
Class 1. The Celestial Sphere: Observing the sky from the perspective of an earth-bound observer. What we see and things our ancestors figured out. OpenStax . Getting oriented; Exploring the Celestial Sphere via computer simulation; Apparent paths of the sun, stars, moon, and planets; Eratosthenes, Hipparchus, Ptolemy and Copernicus. Before Class 2, download and install a copy of Stellarium to your smart phone (from your app store) or to your computer (from http://stellarium.org).
Class 2. (i) Finding your way around the sky [Stellarium]; (ii) The Earth-Sun system. OpenStax [4.1 – 4.2]. Introduction to Stellarium; Bright stars and constellations; Visualizing earth and its motion from different perspectives; Solstices and equinoxes, sunrise/sunset and transit through the seasons and for different locations; The solar analemma.
Class 3. (i) Earth-Sun system, continued OpenStax [4.2-4.3] . (ii) Motion of the Moon, OpenStax [4.5-4.7]. Time keeping and calendar-making; Cycle of lunar phases; Eclipses; Tides; Lunar rotation.
Class 4. The Planets and their Orbits, OpenStax [3.1 – 3.5]. Venus in Mayan Astronomy; Tycho, Kepler, Galileo, and Newton; Applications of Kepler’s and Newton’s Laws in understanding our solar system.
Part II. Stellar Astronomy
Class 5. Starlight and How We Analyze It, OpenStax[5, 17]. Properties of light; Thermal radiation; Zooming in on the rainbow (atoms and spectra); Brightness, spectra, and proper motion of stars; Searching for exo-planets.
Class 6. A Celestial Census, OpenStax. Distribution of nearby star types; Determining the mass and diameters of stars; The “HR diagram” and its patterns.
Class 7. Astronomy in 3D – Finding the Distance to Things, OpenStax. What distances can we imagine? How does it help to know them? Parallax; “Standard candles” and the distance ladder; Determining our place in the Milky Way.
Class 8. Stellar Evolution, OpenStax[15.1, 16.1-16.3, 22, 23]. Structure of the Sun; Lifetime of main sequence stars; End-of-life pathways for low-mass and high-mass stars; White dwarves and supernovae; Neutron stars; Black holes.