Courses

Astronomy

ASTR 101(F)Stars: From Suns to Black Holes

What makes a star shine? For how long will the Sun keep shining? What are black holes and how can they form? Astronomy 101, a non-major, general introduction to the part of contemporary astronomy that includes how stars form and how they end their existence, will provide answers to these questions and more. The course gives special attention to the exciting discoveries of the past few years. Topics include modern astronomical instruments such as the Hubble Space Telescope, the Chandra X-ray Observatory, the Kepler mission to discover extrasolar planets, the new generation of 8- and 10-meter mountaintop telescopes, results from them, and their even-larger planned successors of 30-meter-diameter equivalents; how astronomers interpret the light received from distant celestial objects; the Sun as a typical star (and how its future will affect ours); and our modern understanding of how stars work and how they change with time. We will also discuss how pulsars and black holes result from the evolution of normal, massive stars and how supermassive black holes lurk at the center of galaxies and quasars. We will discuss the discovery of planets around stars other than the Sun. We regularly discuss the latest news briefs and developments in astronomy and relate them to the topics covered in the course. This course is independent of and on the same level as Astronomy 102 (solar system) and 104 (galaxies and cosmology), and students who have taken those courses are welcome. Observing sessions will include use of the 24-inch telescope and other telescopes for nighttime observations of stars, star clusters, planets and their moons, nebulae, and galaxies, as well as use of other telescopes for daytime observations of the Sun. [ more ]

ASTR 102Our Solar System and Others

Not offered this year

What makes Earth different from all the other planets? What has NASA's Curiosity on Mars found about Mars's past running water and suitability for life? What is Pluto? Will asteroids or comets collide with the Earth again? What is a solar eclipse like? Astronomy 102, a non-major, general introduction to the part of contemporary astronomy that comprises the study of the solar system, will provide answers to these questions and more. We will cover the historical development of humanity's understanding of the solar system, examining contributions by Aristotle, Ptolemy, Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Einstein, and others. We will discuss the discovery of over 2000 exoplanets around stars other than the Sun. The course gives special attention to exciting discoveries of the past few years by space probes and by the Hubble Space Telescope and the Kepler mission. We regularly discuss the latest news briefs and developments in astronomy and relate them to the topics covered in the course. This course is independent of, and on the same level as Astronomy 101 (stars and stellar evolution) and 104 (galaxies and cosmology), and students who have taken those courses are welcome. Observing sessions will include use of the 24-inch telescope and other telescopes for nighttime observations of stars, star clusters, planets and their moons, nebulae, and galaxies, as well as use of other telescopes for daytime observations of the Sun. [ more ]

ASTR 104(S)The Milky Way Galaxy and the Universe Beyond

It has been less than a century since the Sun was discovered not to be at the center of the Milky Way Galaxy, and the Milky Way Galaxy was determined to be only one of countless "island universes" in space. A host of technological advances is enabling us to understand even more clearly our place in the universe and how the universe began. For example, the Hubble Space Telescope, the Herschel Space Observatory, and the Chandra X-ray Observatory bring clearer images and cover a wider range of the spectrum than has ever been obtainable before; they are speeding up progress on determining the past and future of the Universe. They are confirming and enlarging our understanding of the Big Bang. In addition, the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe and Planck spacecraft's study of the early Universe and large-scale mapping programs such as the Sloan Digital Sky Survey are giving clues into how the Universe's currently observed structure arose. Astronomy 104, a non-major, general introduction to part of contemporary astronomy comprising the study of galaxies and the Universe, explores the answers to questions like: What is the Milky Way?; Why are quasars so luminous?; Is the Universe made largely of "dark matter" and "dark energy"?; What determines the ultimate fate of the Universe? How have studies of Cepheid variables and distant supernovae with the Hubble Space Telescope determine that the Universe is 13.8 billion years old and indicated that the Universe's expansion is accelerating. We regularly discuss the latest news briefs and developments in astronomy and relate them to the topics covered in the course. This course is independent of, and on the same level as Astronomy 101 and 102, and students who have taken those courses are welcome. Observing sessions will include use of the 24-inch telescope and other telescopes for nighttime observations of stars, star clusters, planets and their moons, nebulae, and galaxies, as well as daytime observations of the Sun. Observing sessions will include use of the 24-inch telescope and other telescopes for observations of stars, star clusters, planets and their moons, nebulae, and galaxies, as well as daytime observations of the Sun. [ more ]

ASTR 111(F)Introduction to Astrophysics

How do stars work? This course answers that question from start to finish. In this course we undertake a survey of some of the main ideas in modern astrophysics, with an emphasis on the observed properties and evolution of stars; this course is the first in the Astrophysics and Astronomy major sequences. It is also appropriate for students planning to major in one of the other sciences or mathematics, and for others who would like a quantitative introduction that emphasizes the relationship of contemporary physics to astronomy. Topics include radiation laws and stellar spectra, astronomical instrumentation, physical characteristics of the Sun and other stars, star formation and evolution, nucleosynthesis, white dwarfs and planetary nebulae, pulsars and neutron stars, supernovae, relativity, and black holes. Observing sessions include use of the 24-inch and other telescopes for observations of stars, nebulae, planets and galaxies, as well as daytime observations of the Sun. [ more ]

ASTR 207 T(F)Extraterrestrial Life in the Galaxy: A Sure Thing, or a Snowball's Chance?

A focused investigation of the possibility of life arising elsewhere in our Galaxy, and the chances of our detecting it. In this course, pairs of students will explore the astronomical and biochemical requirements for the development of Earth-like life. We will consider the conditions on other planets within our solar system as well as on newly-discovered planets circling other stars. We will also analyze the famous "Drake Equation," which calculates the expected number of extraterrestrial civilizations, and attempt to evaluate its components. Finally, we will examine current efforts to detect signals from intelligent alien civilizations and contemplate humanity's reactions to a positive detection. [ more ]

ASTR 211Astronomical Data Acquisition and Analysis

Not offered this year

This course will introduce techniques for obtaining and analyzing astronomical data. We will begin by learning about practical observation planning and move on to discussion of CCD detectors, signal statistics, digital data reduction, and image processing. We will make use of data we obtain with our 24-inch telescope, as well as data from other optical ground-based observatories and archives. We also learn about and work with data from space-based non-optical observatories such as the Chandra X-Ray Observatory the Spitzer Space Telescope (infrared). [ more ]

ASTR 221(S)Compact Stellar Remnants: White Dwarfs, Neutron Stars and Black Holes

As stars end their varied lives they each end up as a dense, compact remnant. In this course we will study the final stages of stellar evolution and concentrate on the basic properties of the three possible remnant states: white dwarf, neutron star and black hole. We will study radio and X-ray pulsars, which represent observed manifestations of some compact objects. In addition, we will discuss the observations confirming the existence of black holes. Finally, we will explore the extreme conditions existing near neutron stars and black holes and discuss their astrophysical consequences. [ more ]

ASTR 330The Nature of the Universe

Not offered this year

This course is a journey through space and time from the first 10-43 seconds to the ultimate fate of the Universe billions of years in the future. Topics include inflation, conditions during the first three minutes, creation of the elements, stellar and giant black holes, the Big Bang and its remnant cosmic background radiation, relativity, galaxies and quasars, the large scale structure of the Universe. We will explore current ideas about the future of the Universe, in particular the acceleration of the Universe's expansion, and its implications for the end of time. [ more ]

ASTR 336Science, Pseudoscience, and the Two Cultures

Not offered this year

A famous dichotomy between the sciences and the humanities, and public understanding of them, was laid down by C. P. Snow and has been widely discussed, with ignorance of the second law of thermodynamics compared with ignorance of Shakespeare. In this seminar, we will consider several aspects of science and scientific culture, including how scientific thinking challenges the claims of pseudoscience. We will consider C. P. Snow and his critics as well as the ideas about the Copernican Revolution and other paradigms invented by Thomas Kuhn. We will discuss the recent "Science Wars" over the validity of scientific ideas. We will consider the fundamental originators of modern science, including Tycho, Kepler, Galileo, and Newton, viewing their original works in the Chapin Library of rare books and comparing their interests in science with what we now call pseudoscience, like alchemy. We will review the history and psychology of astrology and other pseudosciences. Building on the work of Martin Gardner in Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, and using the current journal The Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine, we consider from a scientific point of view what is now called complementary or alternative medicine, including both older versions such as chiropractic and newer nonscientific practices. We will discuss the current global-cliamte-change deniers and their effects on policy. We consider such topics as GM (genetically modified) foods, the safety and regulation of dietary supplements, and the validity of government and other recommendations relevant to the roles of dietary salt and fat in health. We consider the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) and reports of UFO's and aliens. We consider the possible effects that superstitious beliefs have on the general public's cooperation in vaccination programs and other consequences of superstition. We also consider the recently increased range of dramas that are based on scientific themes, such as Tom Stoppard's Arcadia and Michael Frayn's Copenhagen. [ more ]

ASTR 340(S)Great Astronomers and Their Original Publications

In this academic year of the study of the book, honoring the new library and the expansion of the Chapin Library of Rare Books, we study many of the greatest names in the history of astronomy, consider their biographies, assess their leadership roles in advancing science, and examine and handle their first-edition books and other publications. Our study includes the original books published as follows: 16th-century, Nicolaus Copernicus (heliocentric universe); Tycho Brahe (best pre-telescopic observations); 17th-century, Galileo (discoveries with his first astronomical telescope, 1610; sunspots, 1613; Dialogo, 1632), Johannes Kepler (laws of planetary motion, 1609, 1619), Johannes Hevelius and Elisabeth Hevelius (atlases of stars and of the Moon, 1647 and 1687), Isaac Newton (laws of universal gravitation and of motion, 1687); 18th-century, Edmond Halley (Miscellanea curiosa, eclipse maps, 1715, 1724); John Flamsteed and Margaret Flamsteed (Atlas Coelestis, 1729); William Herschel and Caroline Herschel (1781, 1798). In more recent centuries, the original works are articles: 20th-century: Albert Einstein (special relativity, 1905; general relativity, 1916); Marie Curie (radioactivity); Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin (hydrogen dominating stars, 1929), Edwin Hubble (Hubble's law, 1929); Vera Rubin (dark matter, 1970s); Jocelyn Bell (pulsar discovery, 1968); 21st-century: Wendy Freedman (Universe's expansion rate, 2000s). We will also read biographies and recent novels dealing with some of the above astronomers. With the collaboration of the librarians, we will visit not only the Chapin Library of Rare Books but also the rare-book library at the Clark Art Institute to see its works of astronomical interest. [ more ]

ASTR 402Between the Stars: The Interstellar Medium

Not offered this year

The matter between the stars--the interstellar medium--manifests itself in many interesting and unexpected ways, and, as the detritus of stars, its properties and behavior hold clues to the history and future evolution of both stars and the galaxies that contain them. Stars are accompanied by diffuse matter all through their lifetimes, from their birthplaces in dense molecular clouds, to the stellar winds they eject with varying ferocity as they evolve, to their final fates as they shed their outer layers, whether as planetary nebulae or dazzling supernovae. As these processes go on, they enrich the interstellar medium with the products of the stars' nuclear fusion. The existence of life on Earth is eloquent evidence of this chemical enrichment. In this course we will study the interstellar medium in its various forms. We will discuss many of the physical mechanisms that produce the radiation we observe from diffuse matter, including radiative ionization and recombination, collisional excitation of "forbidden" lines, collisional ionization, and synchrotron radiation. This course is observing-intensive. Throughout the semester students will work in small groups to design, carry out, analyze, and critique their own observations of the interstellar medium using the equipment on our observing deck. [ more ]

ASTR 410Compact Stellar Remnants: White Dwarfs, Neutron Stars and Black Holes

Not offered this year

A star is a very interesting, very complicated physical object. Properties of stars and their evolutionary paths depend on an intricate interplay of different physical phenomena with gravity, nuclear interactions, radiation processes and even quantum and relativistic effects playing important roles. Using basic physics we will construct simple models of stars and discuss their evolution, concentrating on the key physical processes that play the dominant role at different evolutionary stages. We will discuss late stages of stellar evolution and concentrate on the basic properties of three possible remnants: white dwarfs, neutron stars and black holes. Radio and X-ray pulsars, supernovae including Type Ia and Gamma Ray Bursts will be discussed as well as observational confirmation of existence of black holes. We will explore extreme conditions existing near neutron stars and black holes and discuss their astrophysical consequences. [ more ]

ASTR 412 T(F)Solar Physics

We study all aspects of the Sun, our nearest star. We discuss the interior, including the neutrino experiment and helioseismology, the photosphere, the chromosphere, the corona, and the solar wind. We discuss the Sun as an example of stars in general. We discuss both theoretical aspects and observational techniques, including work at recent total solar eclipses. We discuss results from current spacecraft, including the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO), the Solar Dynamics Observatory, and Hinode (Sunrise), as well as additional Total Solar Irradiance measurements from ACRIMSAT and SORCE. We also discuss our data analysis of recent transits of Mercury across the face of the Sun and the 2004 and 2012 transits of Venus across the face of the Sun as observed from Earth, the first such transits of Venus since 1882, as well as our work in observing transits of Venus from Jupiter with the Hubble Space Telescope and from Saturn with Cassini. [ more ]

ASTR 420(S)Observational Cosmology: Observing and Modeling the Universe

Recent astronomical observations have revealed that the universe contains large amounts of dark matter (most probably consisting of undetected yet very-weakly-interacting particles) and dark energy (a strange kind of uniformly-distributed energy that creates negative pressure causing accelerated expansion of the universe), while ordinary radiating matter (stars, galaxies and clouds of gas) is only a minor addition. In this course we will discuss the most important observations that lead us to these conclusions. We will start by studying and classifying galaxies. Eighty years ago Hubble discovered that the universe is expanding and 20 years later Gamow proposed the Big Bang model of the evolution of the universe. We will discuss observational data that support the Big Bang model, concentrating on the microwave background radiation and its properties, along with the process of primordial nucleosynthesis. Recent observational data indicate that at a very early stage of evolution the universe passed through a phase of very rapid exponential expansion called "inflation." We will develop and discuss the Standard Cosmological Model that describes the evolution of the universe from the Big Bang to its present state. In particular we will discuss the early phases of radiation-dominated evolution and the late process of structure formation. Finally we will concentrate on the observations indicating that the universe is now dominated by dark matter and dark energy. [ more ]

ASTR 493(F)Senior Research: Astronomy

An original experimental or theoretical investigation is carried out under the direction of a faculty member in Astronomy, as discussed under the heading of the degree with honors in Astronomy above. [ more ]

ASTR 494(S)Senior Research: Astronomy

An original experimental or theoretical investigation is carried out under the direction of a faculty member in Astronomy, as discussed under the heading of the degree with honors in Astronomy above. [ more ]

ASTR 499(F, S)Physics and Astronomy Colloquium

Physics and Astronomy researchers from around the country come to explain their research. Students of Physics and Astronomy at any level are welcome. This is not a for-credit course. Registration is not necessary to attend. [ more ]

Astrophysics

ASPH 493(F)Senior Research: Astrophysics

An original experimental or theoretical investigation is carried out under the direction of a faculty member in Astronomy or Physics, as discussed under the heading of the degree with honors in Astrophysics above. [ more ]

ASPH 494(S)Senior Research: Astrophysics

An original experimental or theoretical investigation is carried out under the direction of a faculty member in Astronomy or Physics, as discussed under the heading of the degree with honors in Astrophysics above. [ more ]