After introducing astronomy and modern cosmology in the first week we then consider the sky as it appears from Earth and how it is measured. We will consider the three basic coordinate systems used in astronomy and astrology, and we will also consider how the sky was measured by ancient peoples. The builders of Stonehenge and the ancient Maya were adept skywatchers and we will read most of Anthony Aveni's book "Stairways to the Stars." Aveni, who teaches at Colgate, is a prolific writer on ancient astronomy and one of the major contributors to the field of archeoastronomy.
Our next topic will be the history of astronomy from ancient times to the modern era. Many historical astronomers, including those who led the scientific revolution in the 16th and 17th centuries, were also astrologers. We will focus on the major figures in the history of astronomy and what they contributed.
The rest of the course is concerned with the Sun and the solar system. Using a very informative book on the planets by Michael Barich as our basic text, we will first explore the origin of the solar system, then the Sun, inner planets, outer planets and beyond. Another topic considered in this section is the prospects for life on other planets or moons in our solar system.
The course includes weekly pre-recorded online presentations, links to readings that go beyond the two textbooks and also weekly assignments and a few online quizzes. Questions by email may be asked at any time and Bruce will respond within 24 hours.
Upon completion of the course you should have a solid foundation in astronomy and a much better understanding of how the subject developed historically and where it is today. You will understand the astronomy of ancient cultures and how astronomy is used in mapping the sky. You will learn much about current topics in solar system astronomy and you should also find articles on astronomy in magazines like Scientific American and Discover much easier to read and understand.
Syllabus by weeks
- Astronomy and Big Bang cosmology
- The visible sky and its motions
- Coordinate systems
- Ancient astronomers
- The Scientific Revolution in astronomy
- Origin and evolution of the solar system
- The Sun
- The Terrestrial planets
- The Jovian planets
- Pluto, the Kuiper Belt and Exoplanets