Chat times for 2017-2018
Weds 4:30pm-6pm
ET/1:30pm-3pm PT

Dr. Christe Ann McMenomy

Scholars Online Astronomy for 2017-2018

Poets say science takes away from the beauty of the stars—mere globs of gas atoms. Nothing is "mere." I too can see the stars on a desert night, and feel them. But do I see less or more? The vastness of the heavens stretches my imagination—stuck on this carousel my little eye can catch one-million-year-old light. A vast pattern—of which I am a part—perhaps my stuff was belched from some forgotten star, as one is belching there. Or see them with the greater eye of Palomar, rushing all apart from some common starting point when they were perhaps all together. What is the pattern, or the meaning, or the why? It does not do harm to the mystery to know a little about it. For far more marvelous it the truth than any artists of the past imagined! Why do the poets of the present not speak of it? What mean are poets who can speak of Jupiter if he were like a man, but if he is an immense spinning sphere of methan and ammonia must be silent?

— Richard Feynman, Lectures on Physics

Course Overview

Astronomy is the queen of sciences. It brings together the physics of thermodynamic energy and gravitational forces, the chemistry of materials under pressure, in plasmas, in gases, and the possibility of living organisms that share characteristics — or differ radically — from anything terrestrial biology can teach us. It challenges us with vast distances and endless processes until our concepts of time and space themselves are reformed. And ultimately, it inspires us to ask: what must be the nature of a Divine Mind that could engineer such a wonder?

NOTE: This course description covers both the 2017-2018 academic year in progress, and the proposed 2018-2019 course.

Topics will cover methods and theories fundamental to understanding modern astronomy, including

  • Naked eye and basic telescope observation techniques
  • Diurnal, monthly, and annual lunar and solar motions, and the resulting eclipses
  • Gravitational explanation of the heliocentric solar system model
  • Nature of light and matter
  • Solar system members (planets, moons, asteroids, comets)
  • Planetary characteristics (atmosopheres, surface features, geological structures)
  • Stellar structure and evolution
  • Neutron stars, black holes, and relativity
  • Normal galaxies (like our Milky Way....maybe), quasars and active galaxies
  • Cosmology — the beginning and end of the universe

Meetings: This course meets once a week in live chat sessions using the Scholars Online HTML-based chat application (no audio). We discuss topics from the textbook and current events, supplemented by guided Web Tours. Students must submit weekly homework assignments using basic mathematical tools (trigonometry and algebra). Observation and laboratory exercises are optional.

As we learn about the concepts and methods of modern astronomy, we will try to put them into perspective by addressing these questions:

  • What is science?
  • What is scientific methodology?
  • How do we observe a natural object or event?
  • How do we use instruments to discover more detailed information about matter, energy, motion, and forces?
  • How do we evaluate and organize our knowledge?
  • What are hypotheses, models, theories, and natural laws?
  • How do we test, accept, or disprove a theory?
  • How does the very act of organizing knowledge limit or enhance the way we think about nature and ourselves?
  • What are the ethical implications of scientific investigations of other worlds and the origins of the cosmos?
  • What are the areas of conflict between current astronomical theories and models, and the social, cultural, and religious concerns of the human community?
  • What are our responsibilities as stewards of the natural resources of Earth?

Astronomy is an independent course, and is recommended for students who have completed Natural Science or Biology but need to develop more mathematical skills before tackling AP Chemistry or AP Physics. Students who have already complete chemistry and physics and want more science before college will have the opportunity to apply concepts learned in those classes here.

Math Requirements

You should have completed Algebra I and be taking or have completed a course in geometry. If you know or are learning the following formulae and concepts, you should be fine:

  • The quadratic formula: ax2 + bx + c = 0 and its solution x = (-b ± √(b2 - 4ac))/2a
  • General area and volume equations like
    • circumference of a circle = π * 2 * radius = diameter * π
    • area = π * r2
    • volume of sphere = (4 * π * r3)/3
  • Basic trigonometric relationships: sin α = h/r, where r is the hypotenuse of the right-angle triangle, and h is the side opposite angle α; similarly cos α, tan α and their inverses csc α, sec α, and cot α.
  • Basic trigonometric identities, such as sin2 α + cos2 α = 1 (there are about a dozen of these that an introductory trigonometry course would cover).

Required Text for the academic 2015-2016 academic year:

Textbook: Universe, 10/e

Authors: Roger Freedman, William Kaufman III

Publisher: W. H. Freeman

Order textbooks from:

Scholars Online Bookstore

Need more information? Further details on this course are available at this site on course procedures, laboratory and observation exercises for lab credit, and other frequently-asked questions.

Enrollment: To enroll in this course, or for further information on Scholars Online, please visit the Scholars Online Website.