Advanced Topics in Astronomy: Discovering The Universe

Discovering the Universe focuses on contemporary topics in the fields of Planetary Geology, Solar and Stellar Astronomy and Cosmology. It is not intended to be an “advanced” version of the current descriptive Astronomy course nor is it a continuation of that general level course. This course will expose the serious student to a broad range of themes in modern Astronomy with the opportunity to explore some questions to a greater depth. Students will be given the opportunity to conduct their own authentic astronomy research, acquire real astronomical data, and write a technical scientific paper suitable for publication in a science journal. Topics presented will include the following:

Origin and Structure of the Sun and Solar System

Planetary Geology: Students will examine the planets and satellites of the solar system to identify geologic features and processes responsible for their formation. A thorough study of the volcanic, impact and tectonic features of the earthlike planets and moons will be used to verify theories regarding the origin and evolution of our solar system. Students will research the Apollo missions and the scientific discoveries made by our trips to the lunar surface. Laboratory exercises and demonstrations will include the geomorphologic process of impact cratering and the discoveries of micro meteorites on our own high school campus.

Solar Astronomy: What color is the Sun? The Sun’s spectrum consists of many more colors than the small visible portion of the electromagnetic spectrum we can see with our eyes. This part of the course introduces students to the black body radiation laws and the nature of the continuous spectrum emitted by an opaque object of a particular temperature (i.e. Sun, stars, etc.). Students will examine and compare images of the Sun taken with different telescopes at multiple wavelengths including H-alpha, magnetogram, uV and x-ray and will be asked to develop a hypothesis to explain the correlations between them. A variety of tools will be used to explore the relationship between temperature and spectra including black body simulators and computerized image software.

Stars and Stellar Evolution

The study of stars and stellar evolution is fundamental to our understanding of the origin of the universe. Astrophysics involved in stellar astronomy evolved from the synthesis of observation and theory. Much of what is covered in the part of the course involves the research of Astronomers in the 20th century.

The Message of Starlight: This part of the course will explore the use of photometry and spectroscopy as a research tool in astronomy. Using data collected by a variety of world-class telescopes, students will be able to determine the temperature, distance, composition, velocity and pressure of a variety of different space objects. Using the computer laboratory, the mobile computer labs and the resources available on the internet, students will develop their skills in analyzing the different spectral types of stars by identifying prominent absorption and emission lines in a star’s spectrum. Students will hone their skills on known stars and then can compare their research to what professional astronomers have found in their investigations.

White Bear Lake students will be given the opportunity to conduct their own original research project in the fields of photometry and spectroscopy. Students will receive instruction on how to conduct astronomy research, collect data, present information and data textually and graphically and to write a scientific research paper. The projects selected for this course are taken from research based science education programs designed by the National Optical Astronomical Observatory (NOAO), the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA), and the Spitzer Science Center.

Advanced Topics in Astronomy: Syllabus

Texts: Discovering the Universe (5th ed.), Comins and Kaufman
Study Guide and Notes for Astronomy, Pitman
Week Schedule of Topics and Assignments Text and Study Guide
1-2 The Solar System
Terrestrial Planets
Jovian Planets
Interplanetary vagabonds: asteroids, comets
Build Your Foundations II
ch. 6
ch. 7
ch. 8
3-4 Our Star: The Sun ch. 9
5-6 Stars and Stellar Evolution
The Nature of Stars
The Life Cycle of Stars
The Death of Stars
Build Your Foundations III
ch. 10
ch. 11
ch. 12
7-8 Light and Telescopes
Introduction to Light
The Tools of the Astronomer
Blackbody Radiation

ch. 3.1-3.4 (pp 58-63)
ch. 3.5-3.15 (pp 64-83)
ch. 4.1-4.2 (pp 86-90)
ch. 4.3-4.7 (pp 91-102)
9-10 The Message of Starlight Study Guide and Notes
11-13 Spectroscopy of Giant and Supergiant Variable Stars Study Guide and Notes
14-15 Type and Structure of Galaxies ch. 15-16
16-18 Photometry Study of Active Galactic Nuclei Study Guide and Notes

Advanced Topics In Astronomy: Guidelines & Expectations

We are partners in learning. During this course, you will have the opportunity to discover things about our Solar System and Universe that should amaze and fascinate you. I will make every effort to present this material in an interesting, informative, and provocative way. However, attending class and paying attention will probably not be all you need to do to achieve success here. I expect you to study at least 1 hour each day (7-10 hours/week), outside of class, so you may fully understand and assimilate this material. You need to make this effort.

Come to class on time. Students are expected to be in their assigned seat at the tone that marks the beginning of the period. Three or more unexcused tardies will result in disciplinary action. Each student is expected to exhibit appropriate classroom behavior. Disruptions and annoyances that interfere with students’ ability to learn will not be tolerated. The use of cell phones or other electronic devices will not be permitted during class.

Be prepared each day with your text (if requested), notebook, pen or pencil, calculator, and an active mind. Please don’t ask to borrow a pen, pencil, calculator, or mind.

If you miss a day, you miss a lot. It will be your responsibility to make up all work due to absence. Immediately upon your return to class, you should make an appointment with me to discuss what you have missed. Failure to do so may result in no credit (grade of 0) awarded for the assignments missed. Be sure to contact a responsible classmate to obtain notes you missed during your absence.

Assignments need to be completed on time. Work turned in late (except for absences noted above) will not be accepted and a grade of 0 will be given. You will be given sufficient time to complete your assignments. Many of these assignments require several days to complete. Do not wait until the night before the due date to attempt to complete these tasks.

Your submitted assignments must be just that...yours. Cheating, including plagiarism, will not be tolerated. Penalties for this type of infraction will be severe, up to and including an F in the course.

Grading Procedure: Students receive their grade based upon the total number of points earned from the following assessments:

Tests and quizzes: 40% Grading scale: A 93-100 A- 90-92
Laboratory exercises and observations: 40%   B+ 88-89 B 82-87 B- 80-81
Class activities (i.e. projects, reports, homework): 20%   C+ 78-79 C 72-77 C- 70-71
  D+ 68-69 D 62-67 D- 60-61
            F < 60

Please take a moment to read this letter from the National Commission on Excellence in Education.