Physics 104: Introduction to the Sky & Solar System....Spring 2002 - it's been a while since I've taught this one

Our Solar System

Instructor: Kirk Korista
Office: 2226 Everett Tower
Office phone: 387-4971
Physics Department Office: 1120 Everett Tower
Physics Department phone: 387-4940
Western Michigan University home page is here

This course's textbook: The Essential Cosmic Perspective (4th Edition) by Bennett, Donahue, Schneider, & Voit. To gain access to Mastering Astronomy, our textbook's wonderful on-line tutorial, go to the above webpages and click on our book. If you haven't registered with the on-line tutorial, then do so using the access code number printed in Mastering Astronomy packet, included with your textbook if you bought it new. First time users will be asked to register and to set a login name and password. If you bought your textbook used, and you want access to this optional yet valuable on-line tutorial, you'll have to purchase an access code on-line (click on "buy now") for $27. We have received tremendous positive feedback from students who have taken advantage of our book's on-line tutorial. If you bought your textbook new, you've already paid for the service, so why not check it out? If not, you might consider paying the extra little bit or working with a buddy who has access to the site.

Some quotable quotes about science

Science is built up with facts, as a house is with stones. But a collection of facts is no more a science than a heap of stones is a house.-Jules Henri Poincare is not a database of unconnected factoids but a set of methods designed to describe and interpret phenomena, past or present, aimed at building a testable body of knowledge open to rejection or confirmation.-Michael Shermer (Scientific American, September 2002)

Like all sciences, astronomy advances most rapidly when confronted with exceptions to its theories... - from Modern Astrophysics (Bradley Carroll & Dale Ostlie)

Science is a way of trying not fooling yourself. The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool. -Richard P. Feynman (Physics Nobel Laureate)
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... What is the pattern or the meaning or the why? It does not do harm to the mystery to know a little more about it. For far more marvelous is the truth than any artists of the past imagined it. Why do the poets of the present not speak of it? What men are poets who can speak of Jupiter if he were a man, but if he is an immense spinning sphere of methane and ammonia must be silent? - Richard Feynman (1918-1988), Physics Nobel Laureate, from The Feynman Lectures on Physics, 1963.

  • A wonderful, yet brief, essay describing what science is and how it works
  • Do you know the difference between science and pseudoscience? If you don't, read this.
  • Do "unlikely" events confuse you? Then read this, and this.
  • What's wrong with teaching "intelligent design" in the science classroom? and where's the science in ID?
  • An example of how ignorance and lack of critical thinking skills can it!
  • What's that, you say? Astrology is rubbish?
  • And why should anybody care about Physics? How does it affect the life of the average person?

  • Class Announcements (to be updated next time I teach this course) All exams/quizzes: Bring a couple of #2 pencils and an eraser.

    Your Chance to view through a telescope
  • Free Public Telescopic Observing Sessions of the night sky for 2005 at the Kalamazoo Nature Center (usually beginning after twilight, if skies are clear; here is a map), sponsored by the Kalamazoo Astronomical Society (KAS). Here is the scheduled list of events.

  • For all observing sessions: dress appropriately; events are outdoors, and there are no restroom facilities. The KAS will supply the telescopes; all you need is a pair of eyes. However, if you have binoculars or your own telescope, feel free to bring it out. KAS members will also be happy to help you use your telescope.

    A few selected web sites relevant to astronomy
    A link to the webpage of other introductory astronomy course I teach, Physics 1060
    My personal page on the issue of light pollution
    The Kalamazoo Astronomical Society (local amateur astronomy club) page is here
    Astronomy Picture of the Day
    The musings of a a local amateur astronomer
    All the latest and greatest from the Hubble Space Telescope
    The new sciences of astrobiology and astrochemistry - finding life's building blocks in the cosmos.
    See the Earth having a bad day.
    An editorial from the Kalamazoo Gazette, March 12, 1998, illustrating a common misunderstanding of how science works (and a poor understanding of cosmology), and here is my response to that editorial, Viewpoint March 25, 1998.

    The Universal Inquirer...inquiring minds want to know... The following set of links contain information on topics related to but beyond the content of this course. Nevertheless, some of you may find them interesting.
    Some really cool JAVA animation demos in astronomy are here, here , & here
    A web-site with neat time-lapse photography of lunar phases, eclipses, Jupiter's moons, etc. .
    Another really nice set of computer simulations illustrating the workings of the sky: from the celestial sphere to the phases of the Moon.

    Hey! How did this happen? Shuttle STS-98 casts a shadow on the full Moon?
    Hey! How did this happen? A square sun at sunset?
    Another setting sun...with a rare blue and green flash
    Hexogonal ice crystals acting as prisms - and putting on a show in the sky
    This event nearly always generates strong emotions within me, though I couldn't say why....
    At an altitude of 384 km, the International Space Station here and here

    And now, some pretty pictures of the heavens...

    Unit 1: An Introduction to Our Place in the Cosmos and the Cycling Sky

    This is a nice illustration showing the planets and largest moons within our solar system to scale by size.
    Sizing up the Earth and Sun - the following are a series of comparitive scale models of the Earth and Sun relative to the other planets and other stars of known size: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

  • Earth's Rotation
  • The relationship between  distance, physical size and angular size is beautifully illustrated in these side-by-side images of the Sun and Moon at their furthest (aphelion and apogee) from and closest (perihelion and perigee) distances to the Earth. All photographs (courtesy Earth Science Picture of the Day) were taken as the Sun and Moon reached their highest point in the sky on the particular date. The slightly reddish hue of the perigee Moon on July 2, 2004 is due to its low altitude in the sky and so its light must pass through a greater column of Earth's atmosphere whose molecules and particulates scatter shorter wavelengths of sun light more than longer ones - the same effect as a red or orange sun near sunrise or sunset.

  • A nice animation demonstrating the reasons for the changing seasons on Earth.
  • The Ecliptic
  • Jupiter, Venus, & Saturn in the pre-dawn sky of 26 July, 2001
  • A line up of all 5 visible planets in the dusk sky of 23 April, 2002 (artificial cross hairs and lines were drawn into this photo to indicate the planets' and constellations' locations)
  • A really cool line up of all 5 visible planets with Stonehenge in the foreground, from 4 May, 2002.
  • Phases of the Moon
  • Eclipses

  • Unit 2: The History and Tools of Astronomy

  • A movie illustrating the formerly mysterious retrograde motion: Jupiter & Saturn in the constellation Taurus (2000 June - 2001 May)
  • A series of photographs of Mars taken during 2003 demonstrating retrograde motion. Mars loomed largest during Earth's closest approach in late August.
  • a JAVA script demo demonstrating the same motion
  • a JAVA script demo demonstrating Kepler's Laws of Planetary Motion
  • JAVA script demo for parallax
  • Here is an animated series of photographs showing the phases of Venus
  • The Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia, has the world's most extreme ocean tides, up to 16 meters in variation of ocean depth. This amounts 14 cubic km (14 billion metric tonnes) of ocean rushing in and out every 6 hours and 12 minutes - enough to tilt the Nova Scotia countryside downward during high tide! Here are pictures of low and high tides. These are the result of the Moon's gravitational pull varying across Earth's diameter (the near side of the Earth is closer to the Moon's center than the Earth's center, which is in turn closer than the far side of the Earth).  These differential gravitational forces are called tidal forces. The Sun also exerts tidal forces on the Earth, but with about 1/2 the effect of the Moon.

  • Telescopes
  • Light
  • JAVA script demos for the Doppler Effect, 1/(distance)2 dilution of light, & blackbody radiation (light emitted by dense gas, liquid or solids)
  • Unit 3: The Solar System
  • Our star: the Sun on the outside
  • The birth of stars and planets in other solar systems
  • The terrestrial planets
  • The jovian planets
  • Mysterious Pluto & Charon....
  • Asteroids and their encounters with Earth
  • Comets

  • Kirk Korista
    Professor of Astronomy
    Department of Physics
    Western Michigan University
    Kalamazoo, MI 49008-5252