Astronomy program description - Spring 1998 - E.J. Zita

Working primarily from "Discovering the Universe" by Kaufmann and Comins, we studied the foundations of modern astronomy; the structure, dynamics, and evolution of stars; and the cosmology of modern astronomy. In conjunction with LLyn DeDanaan's "Stars, Sky, and Culture" program, we learned a little about cosmologies from other cultures. In joint workshops we got hands-on practice with models of the solar system, phases of the moon, and spectroscopy. In joint observing sessions, we observed with naked eyes and binoculars, and occasionally with 8-12" Dobsonian-mounted Newtonian and equatorial-mounted Schmidt-Cassegrain telescopes.

Students should now have a good sense of our place in the universe, and how local motions of our planet cause changes in the appearance of celestial bodies and the sky. Students should have gained a thorough understanding of the derivation, meaning, and uses of Kepler's third law, from circular orbits and binary masses to galactic rotation curves and dark matter. Students were also expected to attain a good level of quantitative understanding and skill in algebra, dimensional analysis, and order-of-magnitude estimates, applied to areas such as the nature of light, telescope powers, and Doppler shifts.

Each week, students were expected to complete careful summaries of their readings, do two complete and detailed homework sets, and participate actively in class discussions, workshops, field trips, and team research. The quarter-long research projects usually were ordinarily to be done in groups of three, with both observational and library research, culminating in oral presentations based on reports written on a Web page. Every report should include carefully referenced sources and an annotated bibliography. Students should have learned a broad spectrum of supplementary material from their peers' research reports.

Class ordinarily met three hours per week for lecture/seminar, three hours per week for workshops, one evening per week for observing (when clear), and research teams were to meet at least two hours per week throughout the quarter. After midquarter, students spent more time working independently on their group research projects, and less time in structured activities such as workshops. Homework for the last few weeks was on an honor basis, to be checked by the students themselves against online solutions. Program activities were supplemented with videos and other meetings with Stars, Sky, and Culture; field trips to star parties, observatories, planetaria, and guest lectures; poster presentations at Evergreen's Annual Science Fair; and community events such as local astronomy club meetings and Astronomy Day at the mall.

Details about the Spring 1997-98 Astronomy Program, including students' research reports, can be found on the web at (