About This Course
In this class, we will be studying, quite literally, everything in the universe. We will start with "classical" astronomy, describing the night sky and organizing what we see as was done in ancient times. We will then embark on a journey, starting here on Earth and progressing outward, to study the Solar system, the Milky Way galaxy, and the wonderful and strange objects we observe in deep space, such as black holes, quasars, and supernovae. We will end with some discussion of what scientists know today about the universe as a whole. Along the way we will introduce some of the methods, theoretical and experimental, that have been used to understand all of this, from Newton's laws, through our understanding of light and matter, to Einstein's theory of relativity, and from Galileo's telescope to WMAP and LIGO.
Week 1: Positional Astronomy (naked-eye Astronomy)
We will spend our first week familiarizing ourselves with descriptions of the positions and motions of celestial objects.
Weeks 2-3: Newton’s Universe
Newtonian physics revolutionized the way we understand our Universe. We will discuss Newton’s laws of mechanics, the conservation laws that follow from them, his theory of gravity and some applications to Astronomy, as well as some properties of radiation. The last clip will be a quick look at the features of quantum mechanics relevant to our course. This will be a particularly busy and challenging unit, but hard work here will pay off later.
Week 4: Planets
We will not have time in this course to do justice to the broad and exciting field of planetary science. We will spend the week on a general review of the properties and structure of our Solar System and our understanding of its origins and history. We will end with some discussion of the exciting discoveries over the past decade of many hundreds of extrasolar planets.
Week 5: Stars
What we know about stars and a bit about how we found out. We will begin with a quick review of the best-studied star of all, our Sun. We will then talk about classifications; H-R diagrams and main sequence stars; distance, mass, and size measurements; binaries; clusters; and stellar evolution through the main sequence.
Week 6: Post-Main-Sequence Stars
Final stages of stellar evolution and stellar remnants. Giants, white dwarfs, novae, variable stars, supernovae, neutron stars and pulsars.
Week 7: Relativity and Black Holes
We will spend most of this week acquiring an understanding of the special theory of relativity. We will then discuss the general theory in a qualitative way, and discuss its application to black holes, gravitational lensing, gravitational radiation, and other phenomena of interest.
Week 8: Galaxies
Galactic structure and classification. Active galactic nuclei, quasars and blazars. Galactic rotation curves and dark matter. Galaxy clusters and large-scale structure.
Weeks 9-10: Cosmology
What we can say about the universe as a whole. Hubble Expansion. Big bang cosmology. The cosmic microwave background. Recent determination of cosmological parameters. Early universe physics.
There are a lot of important and interesting facts to learn about astronomy, and lectures are a very inefficient way to learn facts. It would be extremely helpful, but not absolutely necessary, to read any of the many fine textbooks on introductory astronomy that are out there as you take this class and to have it handy as a reference. One example is "Universe" by Freedman, Geller, and Kaufmann - but there are many other comparable texts and I will not adhere strictly to any of them. The general astronomy Wikibook http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/General_Astronomy and Wikipedia entries for topics mentioned in class would be quite sufficient for this purpose, as would the notes by Nick Strobel generously
available for free at http://www.astronomynotes.com/. In addition, I recommend (but do not require!) downloading and installing a planetarium application for your computer. Examples of free downloads sufficient
for our purposes include http://www.astrosurf.com/c2a/ (Windows only) or http://www.ap-i.net/skychart/.
The specific software I will use in lecture, http://astronomy.starrynight.com/ can also help to understand the material.