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The following is a tentative schedule for the current class
(Summer 2010). It probably will not survive intact, as I tend to slow
down when people have trouble and speed up when it is smooth sailing,
which varies year to year. But it is a schedule that will carry
us through the material in a timely way, and complete all the required
work in the allotted time.
- May 19-21
- Topics: We will start with a general course description,
and review what we will cover, the material above, how to study and do
the homework. We will then begin our study of astronomy with some
essential philosophy, in particular the building of a worldview. We will cover: the scientific method, the small angle
formula (with a bit of trigonometry and geometry), scientific notation,
length and time scales, and some of the units that you will need to
know. Following this we will consider the history of astronomy (in
particular things accomplished with naked eye observations in the
millennia before the invention of the telescope) and we will make our
first pass through learning how to navigate the heavens and find
``interesting'' objects by means of their declination and right ascension - the ``latitude'' and ``longitude'' of the heavens,
as it were.
- Reading Assignment: This syllabus (completely), Chapters
1 and 2 in Freedman for Thursday and Friday respectively, and skim
the rest of the textbook to become generally familiar with its contents.
Click on at least a couple of links in the ``wikilinks'' section above
and read what you find there, then follow the links in the article
itself and read as much as you like - this should be fun!
- Homework: Chapter 1- 28, 29, 35, 36, 37, 38. Prepare to
discuss 40, 41. When you get a chance (and it isn't cloudy) do 45, 46,
47 from somewhere "dark" on campus, being careful to be safe - do this
in groups. If no opportunity presents itself, don't worry - we'll try
to schedule a (weather permitting) trip out to our private observation
site in Duke Forest perhaps over this weekend and to it together there.
The moon will be in its first quarter then, which will give us a great
opportunity to look at it as the ancients must have - just barely too
small to be able to make out details like mountains and craters and see
that it is an approximate sphere. Chapter 2- 29, 30, 42, 48. Add
activities such as 60 and 61 to your list of observation chores.
Finally, write me a short, informal paper or letter that explains
why you are taking this course, and what (aside from a science credit)
you hope to get out of it. Is there anything in particular you hope to
learn? Have you always been curious about science in general, or
astronomy in particular? Do you want to know how (as best we can tell)
the Universe came to be as it is? Are you hoping to learn enough to
pursue amateur astronomy as a hobby, perhaps with your own telescope?
Whatever your interests or goals here, articulate them both for me
and for yourself - at the end of the course you can assess
whether or not you have accomplished what you set out to accomplish and
learned what you hoped to learn.
This homework assignment will be due Monday, 5/24 at the beginning of
- May 24-28
- Topics: Sidereal time, Celestial Navigation, Parallax
(from Chapter 2).
All About the Moon and the Tides!
Gravity, orbits, the planets. The problem of retrograde motion on the
``spheres''. The first working solution - the Ptolemaic geocentric model. What is good and bad about it (and why one it is bad
to have a religious mythology in the way of unbiased reason).
Occam/Ockham's Razor - should Nature be ``simple''? Copernican heliocentric model2. Synodic and sidereal periods revisited (opposition
Tycho Brahe's observations. Johannes Kepler and Kepler's Laws. Galileo
and (St.) Bellarmine. Newton and Newton's Laws. Newton's Law of
Universal Gravitation. Orbits. Kepler's Laws revisited. The Tides
We'll start (but probably not finish) the study of light in chapter 5.
- Reading Assignment: Chapters 3, 4 and 5. Also, read the
links to all of the people and topics mentioned in the topics section on
wikipedia, and follow interesting links from those pages as the mood
Also read St. Bellarmine's Letter to
and, if you like, do more google-based work looking up the woes of
Copernicus and Galileo, in particular.
- Homework: Chapter 3 - You should know all of the ``Key
Ideas'' from the chapter. You should also learn most of the ``true
facts'' about the moon that we talked about in class - its size,
probable natural history, approximate radius of its orbit, the
inclination of the plane of its orbit compared to the ecliptic, and
about the saros and how to predict the interval between ``similar''
eclipses. Also do problems: 26, 31, 37, 48, 50, 53.
You should note that we are due to have a gangbusters solar eclipse
right across NC from the look of it in 2017, a mere seven years from
now. Plan your reunion visits early! These problems are due on Friday
(before our probable quiz on Chapters 1-3).
- June 1-4
- Topics: Conclude gravitation/tides and motion of the
planets (Chapter 4). Study light: speed of light, light as a wave with
frequency and wavelength, the spectrum, interference and diffraction,
blackbody radiation (from hot objects, so "temperature" as well), Wien's
law, Stefan-Boltzmann law for a blackbody, photon hypothesis, chemically
specific spectra (blackbody, emission, absorption), Rayleigh scattering
(why the sky is blue and sunset red), doppler shift. Also telescopes
and how the eye and magnifiers work (Chapter's 5-6).
- Homework: Chapter 4: 15, 22, 30, 31, 38, 41, 43, 46, 51,
52, 53 (2-3 items per person, not an essay). Due Thursday. Chapter 5:
10, 13, 14, 15, 19, 22, 28, 31, 36, 38, 45, 46. Due Monday of next
- June 7-11
- Topics: Simple geometric optics (chapter 6): How the eye
works, how lenses create magnified images, how a telescope works, how
the different kinds of telescope work (e.g. refracting, reflecting, and
hybrids such as Schmidt-Cassegrain). Parameters that describe a
telescope (to help you one day make such a purchase!):
light gathering power, chromatic abberation, limits to angular
resolution (diffraction, atmosphere/adaptive optics, light pollution,
dew), using e.g. CCD cameras to further increase light gathering power
IF one has a rock solid tracking scope. Famous telescopes and radio
interferometry telescopes, telescopes that focus on one part of the
Our Solar System (chapters 7-16, overlapping into the next week): Kinds
of planets: rocky, gas giants, dwarf planets and moons. Names of
planets, order, characteristics. Kinetic energy, temperature, and
planetary atmosphere. Asteroids. Comets. Cratering and how it relates
to age and history and internal geology of planets, moons, etc where we
can observe it. Magnetic field and fluid planetary interiors (and
- Homework: Chapter 6: 8, 19, 29, 31, 32, 33, 37, 38.
Chapter 7: 22, 24, 25, 29, 34. Chapter 6 due Friday, Chapter 7 due
It is also time to switch over to ``information, not equations'' mode.
For the rest of the summer session, your standing assignment will be
reading the Unverse textbook like a novel, just for the fun and the very
cool interesting stuff in it, at the rate of 2 chapters per night (this
should take you no longer than a couple of hours, as the chapters aren't
Don't just read! Take notes as you go, highlight things that you want
to talk about in class or things you'd like to see or have further
explained. There will be a smattering of problems from the chapters as
we go, added below, but from now on we really will focus much more on
reading and understanding the vast wealth of what is known about our
Universe. At this point you know enough of the science that most
of this should now make sense to you. Of course, whatever doesn't should be brought to class and discussed!
- June 14-18
- Topics: Our Solar System, in detail. Basically we'll try
to cover several bodies a day, trying to learn all that is "interesting"
about objects in the solar system, concentrating on the Sun, models for
formation, and what we have learned from what we can see plus space
missions to perform on-site measurements.
- Homework: Continue to read 2 chapters (or more) a night
for discussion. Check back here as I'll add a handful of homework
problems from all of the chapters involved over the course of the week
just to give you some concrete questions to study for exams etc.
- June 21-25
- Topics: Stars, their spectrum, the Hertzsprung-Russell
(H-R) diagrams, how they are forming as we speak, their life cycle
as revealed by the H-R diagram and parallax-based observations (the way
we've been discussing).
- Homework: Continue to read 2 chapters a night for
discussion. Check back here as I'll add a handful of homework problems
from all of the chapters involved over the course of the week just to
give you some concrete questions to study for exams etc. This should
pretty much exactly take us through the textbook by the end of the
- June 28-30
- Topics: June 28 is last day of class, so we'll wrap up
with a discussion and review of everything. June 29 will be the reading
period; I'd suggest that we again meet as usual for review and
discussion, and then you can retire to study for the final exam, which
is from 2-5 pm on June 30th in our regular classroom.
- Homework: Chapter 17: 19, 27, 44, 46, 55. Chapter 18: 11,
13, 18, 44. Chapter 19: 15, 21, 28, 30. Chapter 20: 14, 16, 22, 53.
Note that most of this is ``review'' of the material we covered last
week plus the applications of the physics we learned at the beginning.
Be sure to read the rest of the book! I will not ask questions on
it as we didn't cover it in detail in class, but the chapters on the
structure of galaxies and the origin and evolution of the Universe are
very interesting. On Monday I will try to go over at least some parts
of chapter 26 so we can add some detail to our existing picture of the
big bang (and review the evidence, including evidence such as the
inference of the expanding Universe and Hubble constant that we have not
yet covered). Tuesday is, as I note above, the reading period (which I
had forgotten) and there will be no class. I will, however, be
available in our classroom during our normal time period and would be
happy to hold a review session and answer questions for anybody during
that period and for as long afterwards as people wish to stay.
All homework (including any missing assignments) is due by the 28th at
the very latest (by University rule). This will let me grade the last
of it and give it back to you in time to study from it on the 29th. The
long paper you can hand in anytime up to the exam on Wednesday.
Next: About this document ...
Up: Physics 55 Syllabus and
Previous: The Method of Three
Robert G. Brown